Monday, September 1, 2014

Listomania: August's Non-Kamen Rider Viewings

Looking over my August viewing list, you’d think I was a Japan-o-phile.  Nearly half of my viewings were from my latest addiction, Kamen Rider, and the source who got me hooked is that nefarious (movie)drug dealer, Mr. Sueyres.  Thankfully, I was able to pull myself away from the Land of the Rising Sun on a few occasions and get in a couple of non-tokusatsu flicks here and there.

ARIZONA ROAD (1991):  Larry Ludman…Arizona…Antonio Sabato, Jr.?  Sold!  If two of those three things make you start salivating, I’m guessing you are a fan of the THUNDER WARRIOR series.  An Italian bent on FIRST BLOOD, that trilogy featured Mark Gregory as the Native American kid Thunder, who is constantly being put upon by the local law enforcement (essayed by Bo Svenson, Raimund Harmstof, John Philip Law, and Werner Pochath over three films).  Under the Ludman pseudonym, director Fabrizio De Angelis captured the U.S. Southwest in his own unique way and I was hoping for more of that with ARIZONA ROAD.  Sadly, that was not the case.

Truck driver Emiliano (Sabato, Jr.) is a good guy and we know this because in the first five minutes he saves Aurora (Teresa Leopardi, billed as Therry Turner), a nun being sold into white slavery to small town big shot McDonaldson (Lou Castel).  Okay, things are a bit different in Arizona.  A few years later, Emiliano returns to the area in his own plane to meet up with his old timer buddy Ben Morris (Donald Hodson).  Now why his only friend is a kooky drunk gold miner is beyond me.  To show that Emiliano is still a good guy, we see him get in an unsanctioned boxing match in a bar (which is showing a THUNDER WARRIOR flick on TV) and take a dive so some kids can think their dad is a badass.  Awwwww.  Also working at the bar is Aurora and this pisses Emiliano off as he doesn’t like women who are hussies!  Seriously, half the film is him thwarting her advances. Naturally, word gets around town that Emiliano is back and McDonaldson gets the sheriff he paid for make this kid’s life hell.  And it is bad timing because Morris just found a shitload of gold in his mine and made Emiliano the sole owner.

Damn, I went into this hoping for some THUNDER WARRIOR-esque stuff and instead I got…what I got was...I don't know.  ARIZONA ROAD is kind of like FIRST BLOOD mixed with ROADHOUSE if you have zero action.  No joke, after the first car chase where Emiliano rescues Aurora, nothing happens for an hour. When Sabato, Jr. finally gets his revenge plan against the town big shot in action by breaking out of jail he heads straight for...a lawyer to talk it out.  What the hell?  You keep expecting action to start and, when it finally does, the film is over.  It was shot in the same town as the THUNDER WARRIOR films, but it shows how far the Italian industry had fallen from early '80s to early '90s.  I guess the film is notable for being one of Sabato, Jr.’s first films (he made his debut in De Angelis’ KARATE ROCK the year before), but it is a far cry from the De Angelis-produced ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX (1983) that co-starred Antonio Sabato, Sr. alongside future THUNDER WARRIOR Mark Gregory.  Fans of David Warbeck hoping that reliable thespian will bring something to the proceedings will be disappointed as he is only in this for five minutes.  To the film’s credit, they do capture some beautiful scenery in the Arizona desert, but no one comes to a Ludman/De Angelis flick hoping for pretty postcard images.  We want action and funny dubbing, dammit!  I will admit that this scene did make me laugh though:

C.H.U.D. (1984): I actually had a friend once ask me what C.H.U.D. meant.  I puffed out my chest and said, "Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers."  He countered with, "But what is the real meaning in the film?"  I didn't know and promptly hung my horror geek head in shame. Turns out the official meaning is "Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal," the name stenciled on the side of the toxic waste containers. Remember that kids, as you don't want to find yourself cornered by C.H.U.D. trivia and look like a fool.

C.H.U.D. actually celebrated its thirtieth birthday on August 31, 2014.  The film wasn't a huge success by any means when it opened in August 1984 (it debuted in ominous 13th place) but still got New World just over $4 million with its quick few weeks run at the box office.  I honored this anniversary by dusting off my Anchor Bay DVD and giving it a revisit.  Afterward, I couldn’t help feeling that old person adage of, “They don't make 'em like this any more.”  And, honestly, it’s true.  It tells the story of a NYC photographer (John Heard), a NYC cop (Christopher Curry), and a NYC bum (Daniel Stern) teaming up to uncover a NYC conspiracy of radioactive mutants under NYC.  That’s a lot of NYC.  With its slimy latex monsters, serious "real" actors, and fantastic underground locations, C.H.U.D. is something to behold and still is as awesome today as when I first saw it on VHS.  One of the great things on the DVD is an audio commentary featuring the three aforementioned actors alongside director Douglas Cheek and screenwriter Shepard Abbott.  All five guys have a grand time on this commentary, which was recorded about 20 years after they made the film.  The nice thing here is they don’t talk down the film (well, Stern does goof on some of the make ups) and point out that even though it was a B-movie, they still gave their all.  With anything and everything horror from the ‘80s being remade, I’m shocked this hasn’t hit the reboot block yet.

THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014): More slam bang action for the middle age set!  THE EXPENDABLES 3 opens with Barney Ross (Stallone) and buddies Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunnar (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture) breaking out a prisoner from some death train on its way to some fictional Eastern European country gulag.  Their prize is Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes), one of the original members of The Expendables.  When asked what he did to get locked up and tied down like Hannibal Lecter, Snipes responds, “Tax evasion.”  Wah, wah, waaaaaaaaaah!  Hooking up with Caesar (Terry Crews), the team has little downtime as they jump (literally) right into their next mission, something involving a shipment of weapons to some bad guy.  Turns out the supplier is one Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) and this is bad news because he is also a former original member of The Expendables…who was presumed dead because Barney killed him.  Dun, dun, duuuuuuuuuun!  To show he holds a grudge, the escaping Stonebanks shoots Cesar a few times.  Somehow this makes Barney feel this work is too dangerous for old guys (or he is tired of paying their insurance premiums) so he lets his old team go when Max Drummer (Harrison Ford), his new CIA contact, gives him the okay to snag Stonebanks.  With the help of Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer), Barney picks a new team of young ‘uns – including an energetic Antonio Banderas, boxer Victor Ortiz and MMA fighter Ronda Rousey – to be his new recruits.  I bet you can come up with what happens next faster than Stallone can write a cheesy character name.  Yes, the new team gets captured and it is up to the old guys to save the day.  Will they?

I saw someone online ask, “Who is the target audience for these films?” and, sadly, I knew the answer.  The third entry in Sylvester Stallone’s Jurassic action-hero series isn’t as good as the second one (they should have brought Jean Claude Van Damme back as an evil twin, dammit!), but it is still better than the first flick. Well, unless you are a Jet Li fan as he is only in the film for five minutes.  Yes, seriously.  Stallone made a lot of noise about selecting Aussie Patrick Hughes to helm this entry and I’m not really sure why.  Hughes presents some of the action well, but a lot of it is the same shaky cam nonsense that plagues modern action cinema.  I thought that is what these EXPENDABLE films were battling back against.  Young know, giving us “old school” action versus CGI madness.  If Stallone really wanted to make a badass action flick, Isaac Florentine would have been warming that director’s chair.  Then again, Florentine might make the actors actually do some of the heavy lifting and we can’t have that.  A lot was made about he new additions to this entry and it is a case of good (Banderas brings some welcome energy to his role; Robert Davi pops up), bad (Snipes is just picking up a check; Li and Crews are underused), and ugly (Ronda Rousey’s “acting”).  The biggest shock for me is this is the first time I’ve recognized Harrison Ford being a man of his age.  Just a few years younger than my dad, the 72-year-old Ford looks frail, leading my buddy Sherm to say, “No wonder he broke his leg on the new STAR WARS.”  It is a stunning realization (especially after how well they covered up his age in the last Indiana Jones flick) and provokes a sentiment that could probably be applied to this series.  It was a fun ride, but it is time to retire into the explosion filled sunset.

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