Silk Degrees (1994)

Silk Degrees (1994)- *1\2

Directed by: Armand Garabidian

Starring: Marc Singer, Mark Hamill, Deborah Shelton, Adrienne Barbeau, Michael Des Barres, India Allen, Gilbert Gottfried, and Charles Napier

When actress Alex Ramsey (Shelton) witnesses a murder by gangster Degrillo (Des Barres), she has to go into witness protection. Degrillo had previously been under surveillance by federal agents Rick Baker (Singer, not the famed makeup artist portraying himself) and Johnson (Hamill). Ramsey doesn’t want to leave her glamorous Hollywood life, though she is tired of being bossed around by her TV director, Rene (Gottfried). Baker and Johnson decide the best course of action is to go to a rural inn and get some country livin’ during her sequestration. 

While hiding out from Degrillo and his goons, they meet local folk such as Violet (Barbeau) and Sheila (Allen), who work at the inn, as well as bumpkins looking to sell meth to bikers. Schultz (Napier) is a classic WYC (White Yelling Chief) who constantly screams at Baker to do his job. But naturally there’s romance in the air as Ramsey and Baker – as well as Sheila and Johnson – succumb to the cabin fever and pay-cable 90’s nudity ensues. Will our heroes return to civilization un-shot at and intact?

Erotic thrillers. Gilbert Gottfried. Two things that have gone together since time immemorial. But for some reason, this time the two don’t mix. Silk Degrees typifies the movie you would see on the shelf of your local video store, look at it quickly, shrug your shoulders, say “meh...” and keep walking by. Hence, it’s a “walk-by”, a term we would like to start using. 

Having Mark Hamill and Marc Singer be partners was a novel idea, if only for the fact that we can see the both of them together in the same place at the same time, thus proving that they are indeed two different people. The difference in the two men is academic; casting them as partners is just confusing. At least have one of the federal agents have dark hair, a mustache, a scar, something to distinguish the two. But judging by the mediocrity of it all, the writers must have said “meh...” too.

So why should we, as viewers, care? Is some nudity meant to be enough to keep our attention? Because even that is doled out sparingly. Fan favorite Napier just goes through the motions as he did so many times during his 90’s career, Hamill and Barbeau don’t even really need to be there, and the presence of Gilbert Gottfried is off-putting. 

To be fair, Shelton is attractive and does a decent job, and Singer puts in a respectable amount of energy. But the whole thing is lazily written, and it’s nothing you haven’t seen a million times before. For a far better movie about someone put under witness protection, check out Hit List (1989). 

Silk Degrees isn’t softcore porn, so fans of that will be unsatisfied, it’s not a biopic of Boz Scaggs where he reveals the secrets of the Lido Shuffle, and it’s not a decent mystery, thriller, procedural, or drama, so fans of those will be left wanting. And it’s certainly not an action movie, though there is one really funny moment at the end (that should have happened a lot earlier, and more moments like it to boot - more stupidity on the part of the filmmakers) - but that’s not enough to save it.

The perfect time and place for Silk Degrees was Skinemax in the mid-90’s. In 2015 (or whenever you happen to be reading this), it, sadly, doesn’t cut it.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Ice (1994)

Ice (1994)- * *1\2

Directed by: Brook Yeaton

Starring: Traci Lords, Zach Galligan, Phillip Troy, Jorge Rivero, Jaime Alba, and Floyd Levine

Ellen and Charley Reed (Lords and Troy, respectively) are a happily married couple, and also a couple of diamond thieves. Their latest heist job has them breaking into the estate of mobster Vito Malta (Rivero) and nabbing his stash of jewels, reported to be worth over sixty million dollars. Complications arise when Vito sends his goons after them, two detectives, Prine and Little (Levine and Alba, respectively) also go after them, and even more mobsters…go after them. Ellen must reluctantly turn to her brother Rick (Galligan), a fast-talking slickster with a gambling problem, for help. She also has to contend with the advances of Det. Little, who naturally has a romantic interest in her. Who will get away with all the ice without getting iced?

Ice is okay. It’s nothing great, though it does have its moments. Thankfully, the outing as a whole isn’t overly “heist-y”, and delivers some action moments. This is a PM, after all. So Pepin and Merhi probably felt that they would be remiss if, even though this is ostensibly a heist movie, it didn’t have multiple car blow-ups, car flips, an exploding helicopter, shootouts, neck snaps, a weapons-supplying “Machine Gun Joe” character, and of course a guy screaming his brains out while shooting a machine gun. And let’s not forget the utterance of the line “We got company!” and the time-honored sax on the soundtrack.

Jorge Rivero even gets a scene to do what he does best, fist fight. He was Fist Fighter (1989), after all. This is to be distinguished from Punchfighting, because the goons surrounding the fight are not wagering/clutching cash in their hands. Sure, the scene is a gratuitous time-filler meant to add some brainless grappling to the proceedings, but the guy Rivero fights is a Van Damme clone, Lionheart (1990)-era to be precise. Even Lords gets to do some Traci- Fu, and it’s really not bad, thanks to the help of Art Camacho. 

Thank goodness for independent companies in the video store era like AIP and PM. They truly gave Traci a home when she needed it most. No one ever gives them any credit for that, and Traci does indeed rise to the occasion, utilizing her strict post-adult-career “no (real) nudity” policy to show she can do other things. If nothing else, this movie is a showcase for her sourpussed, sulky beauty, and, let’s be honest here, that’s the reason we’re watching ICE in the first place, right?

In the not-Traci Lords acting department, the guys that play the two cops actually have a very good chemistry, which again very few people are bound to appreciate. Zach Galligan seems to have a smarmy good time playing the brother that’s constantly bickering with his sister/partner, another classic cliché herein. But it wasn’t all stuff we’d seen before: we greatly enjoyed the ice skating rink shootout, that was new to us. Though to be honest, even that didn’t live up to its full potential. There should have been more baddies slipping and sliding around as they tried to shoot their targets. But still, it was a good effort.

Ice is decent, if a tad sluggish, and the main song, “Stand Tall or Fall” is by a band called Lost Art, and NOT sung by Traci herself, as we were hoping. Her character is even supposed to be a nightclub singer in the movie, and she did have a real-life recording career, so it wasn’t far-fetched to believe she might do some singing on the soundtrack, but sadly no.  PM and Traci fans will get something out of it, and it’s a masterpiece compared to Laser Moon (1993), but for the average viewer, Ice is adequate.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out write-ups from our buddies: The Unknown Movies and The Video Vacuum! 


Mercenary Fighters (1988)

Mercenary Fighters (1988)- * *

Directed by: Riki Shelach Nissimoff

Starring: Reb Brown, Peter Fonda, James Mitchum, Ron O' Neal, and Robert DoQui

When some tribesmen in an African village stage an insurrection, the President of Africa (yeah, that’s the ticket…) calls in some foreign White Devils to quell the rebellion, presumably to distance himself from all the local killing and destruction. Vietnam vets T.J. Christian (Brown) and Cliff Taylor (O’Neal), along with Wilson (Mitchum) and some other guy are under the command of Virelli (Fonda), also a ‘Nam veteran. However, as some of our “Mercenary Fighters” come to know the people of the land they’re now in, alliances and allegiances change. Will they Fight to the finish?

We can safely say that Mercenary Fighters is…something you’d find in a video store. At least back in the golden age. Its overall mediocrity ensures it being standard shelf-filler, or, perhaps more accurately, “Cannon fodder” (heh heh. Has anyone ever used that one before?) 

Nevertheless, the movie contains all the standard stuff we’ve come to depend on: explosions, exploding huts, exploding guard towers, guard tower falls, jungles or jungle-like locations, and plenty of shooting. Peter Fonda has a big gun that is a one-shot hut blower-upper, and most of the war violence occurs during the final battle. It is also at this climactic moment that we finally get to hear Reb Brown’s time-honored “Reb-el” yell. He even gets so deep into his screaming, he does practically a whole dialogue scene in a helicopter, let’s just say, not using his indoor voice.

While Reb’s shoutings were apparently such a selling point in the 80’s that he’s even seen screaming on the front cover of the VHS (apparently by the late eighties they had really caught on), Peter Fonda’s silly hair is NOT front and center on the box art. It’s obscured by a mysterious hat. His long, scraggly locks seen in the film seem to be a leftover from his more hippie-ish acting roles, but on a dime about halfway through this film, he snaps into a tough commander role, as if he woke up midway through the production and realized he was supposed to be tough this time around.

Even though Mercenary Fighters on the whole is fairly middling, no one can accuse it of shortchanging us of our favorite stars. Besides Fonda and Brown, we also have Ron O’Neal – even though the credits misspell his name as “O’Neil” – and yet another fan favorite, Jim Mitchum. Mitchum here is classic Mitchum. He wears a shirt that says “Bad Boy”, when he’s not wearing a Hawaiian shirt, and is never seen without his Walkman. If it was somehow possible to not shave for 25 years and not grow a full beard, that’s how his face looks. Surprisingly, his mellow performance would indicate he might not care too much about the proceedings.

On the whole, we’ve never cared too much for what we call “Africa Slogs”, and this is certainly one. Truly this movie is no Red Scorpion (1988), the exception that proves the rule. Despite getting to see some of our favorite actors all together at once, and some decent war violence, somehow, Mercenary Fighters left us unsatisfied.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, DTVC!


Special Forces (2000)

Special Forces (2000)-* * *

AKA: Black Sea Raid

Directed by: Jeno Hodi

Starring: Daniel Bernhardt

Rick Halsey (Bernhardt) is a CIA agent tasked with going to Russia, saving a scientist, stopping arms deals, preventing nukes from being put in the wrong hands, and stopping Chechnyan rebels. It seems like a lot for one man, even if you are Rick Halsey, so he assembles a team in classic team-assembling fashion. He draws from his retired Special Forces buddies, and the team of dudes bein’ dudes use their combined machoness in an attempt to save the day. But can they do it?

Jeno Hodi, you magnificent bastard. You’ve done it again. As the director - nay - cinematic mastermind behind the classic American Kickboxer 2 (1993), or AmKick2 as nobody calls it, he will always have a special place in our hearts. His off-kilter directorial style has, in the past, warranted entertainment and/or laughs, if nothing else. And while you might think Special Forces (or Black Sea Raid, its other title, not to be confused with the Isaac Florentine Special Forces (2003) which came out only a short three years after Hodi’s movie) might be a standard Nu-Image-style military slog, think again. While elements of said sloggery are indeed here in strands, the overall takeaway from this movie is that it is an absurd good time, and its supposed weaknesses are actually strengths.

Here’s what we mean by that: while, amazingly, this movie came out in 2000, it looks like it was shot in 1991, if not earlier. Even the sound SOUNDS old, with dialogue that sounds like it was recorded on scratchy old Edison cylinders. When Hodi and his team went to the former Soviet Union to shoot the movie, he was probably using the best and most up-to-date equipment they had. 

If Special Forces was supposed to be a period piece from years before, it would have succeeded brilliantly. So yes, it does have a “junky” look and sound, but we would argue that, in this case at least, it all adds to the fun. You don’t rent/buy this movie looking for the works of Ingmar Bergman. We’re looking for Daniel Bernhardt to shoot, kick and blow up people amongst a panoply of strange edits. Let’s not kid ourselves here. And that is exactly what’s delivered to our VCRs. So Special Forces is not a failure, it’s an entertaining success against all odds. So take that, haters.

And what’s not to love about Bernhardt’s funny yellings, a handful of surprise Punchfighting scenes, exploding helicopters, some hilariously half-hearted sideways guard tower falls, and the amazingly cliched one-liners from his team, not the least of which is Comeuppance personal favorite “we got company!”. So don’t be afraid of Special Forces. Just go with its flow, and you’ll surely find it enjoyable.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, The Video Vacuum!


Rapid Fire (1992)

Rapid Fire (1992)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Dwight H. Little

Starring: Brandon Lee, Powers Boothe, Nick Mancuso, Raymond J. Barry, and Al Leong

 "Unarmed and Extremely Dangerous..."

Jake Lo (Lee) is a sensitive art student who exorcises his demons from his father dying in the Tiananmen Square massacre by drawing nude women with imaginary dragons floating behind them. All seems well for Jake until he witnesses arch-baddie Antonio Serrano (Mancuso) killing some of his rivals at an art opening. Soon, the Italian mob and the Chinese triads are both after Jake's head. 

Thankfully, with the same hands he uses to paint and draw, he can also use to pain and draw blood from the baddies! When he's shipped temporarily from his native L.A. to Chicago to help badass cop Mace Ryan (Boothe) fight the drug lords, at first he's reluctant, but, Lo and behold, he eventually throws himself into the role of hero. Will Jake Lo come out of this mob war alive? Find out today!

Rapid Fire is classic 90's-style action all the way, and thank God. It's movies like this that keep us energized and coming back for more. The more Rapid Fire-like movies we see, the more we grow to despise the quick-cut/CGI garbage being churned out today. This is all Lee, baby! 

His fight scene with Al Leong is a killer, as are Lee's other beat-em-up scenes, which feature awesome stuntwork and ace Martial Arts. Looking at the credits, a veritable town of people worked as the stunt crew, and as far as we can tell, they all acquitted themselves admirably. The whole outing has a glossy, theater-quality look and feel that reminds you of the good old days when winners of action movies like this came to the theater, were big hits on video and cable, and leave you wanting more. So many movies are agonizing slogs - with Rapid Fire, the time melts away. Why can't it be the other way around? Why can't it be that movies you enjoy seem to last a long time and the bad ones go quickly? Ah well, such is life.

It even starts with an old-school opening that they just don't do anymore. It's the main hero, in this case Brandon Lee, executing his moves against a black screen, in an independently-shot sequence that has nothing to do with the plot, it's just a cool visual exercise to get us ready for the proceedings. 

It has a perfectly simple plot that never flags, and the humble charm of Brandon Lee carries a lot of what we see, and he's counterbalanced by the grizzled Powers Boothe as the awesomely-named Mace Ryan. You'd think a Chicago cop named Mace Ryan would be worthy of his own movie. Sadly, it never materialized. But in a weird coincidence, Boothe co-stars with Raymond J. Barry, and the two were both in Sudden Death (1995) together. It truly is a small action movie world.

Brandon Lee, as Jake, is a classic 90's coolguy: with his motorcycle and leather jacket/vest, we called him Mr. Awesome throughout most of the film. Nick Mancuso is always great, and he plays the stark-raving baddie with aplomb, executing some classic lighthearted racism you just can't do anymore. 

Add some time-honored sax on the soundtrack, as well as some songs by the band Hardline (they get TWO songs, one of which appears in the trailer. You'd think this dedication to Hardline would have given them better visibility, even back then), and you have an unqualified winner. Director Little also did Getting Even (1986) of 'Tag Taggar' fame. Too bad he didn't do more movies like these. But we should be happy with what we have. And Rapid Fire has become a staple movie from the golden age of modern-day action. Now that it's available as an inexpensive DVD, there's no excuse not to own it.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


The Enforcer (1995)

The Enforcer (1995)- * * *

Directed by: Cory Yuen

Starring: Jet Li, Anita Mui, Rogguang Yu, and Mo Tse

Kung Wei (Li) is a loving husband and father, but has to spend a lot of time away from his family because he “has a rapport with these underworld types” and is now deep, deep undercover in an attempt to stop the gang of Po Kwong (Yu), a criminal mastermind with an army of thugs. Wei has an especially strong bond with his young son Johnny (Tse), who, like a pint-sized version of his father, is a Martial Arts expert. 

When Wei’s wife becomes sick, the pressure on him becomes even greater while he’s away from his family, and Johnny strikes up a friendship with a female cop named Fong (Mui). While Wei is undercover in Hong Kong, Fong and Johnny follow him there from mainland China. Then the stage is set for the ultimate confrontation: who will be victorious? Find out today...

Moodily directed by Corey Yuen, a man whose career as an actor, director and stuntman is simply amazing, and who has been kicking all our butts since Above the Law (1986), he seems to be going for more of a balance between emotional drama and action. While nothing seems out of place, as might be expected the highlights of this movie are the fight/action scenes. There are some really impressive moments, and when the energy is there, it’s amazing to watch, but there are certainly some peaks and valleys we as viewers must go through. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, in fact it may make the action scenes stand out all the more.

Thankfully, this movie does have a blonde meathead screaming while shooting a machine gun. So yes, it is truly a work of dramatic art. You know Po Kwong is a villain because he wears his sunglasses at night (and at all other times too), and he and his gang of baddies really put the tot Johnny through hell. Johnny has to go through all manner of trials and tribulations, perhaps even more so than his father does. Many of those things wouldn’t fly in America, even in a movie they’d be considered politically-incorrect child abuse. 

There’s even a scene of Johnny being bullied at school: apparently Johnny is a big ant aficionado, and can even train his ants to spell words like “mom”! When some bullies try to break up his ant party, he stops them in the only way that works: fight back! So there are some good lessons here too.

The Dragon Dynasty DVD is typically excellent, with many features and a crisp, clear transfer. One of Wei’s underworld contacts is subtitled as “G-Dawg”, so perhaps there were some concessions to the American market (???) - but at least there aren’t any misplaced musical cues like in the U.S. DVD version of the Jet Li outing Contract Killer (1998). In the end, fans should appreciate the killer fight scenes, action moments, and stunt work, while non-action buffs may appreciate the dramatic content. So the appeal here is pretty wide.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Covert Action (1988)

Covert Action (1988)- * *

Directed by: J. Christian Ingvordsen

Starring:  Rick Washburn, J. Christian Ingvordsen, and Johnny Stumper

When a senator who looks a lot like Jerry Seinfeld named Sen. Stumper (Stumper) begins the process of grilling Vietnam vet Frank White (Ingvordsen) in front of large audiences during a big congressional investigation, the heat is really on. Apparently, a Central American diplomat was shot by a sniper, and attention turned to White, even though a mysterious soldier/sniper named Rick Burns (Washburn) is heavily involved in a conspiracy that potentially could go all the way to the top. Through a series of flashbacks, we gradually get to the truth. But what will it all mean?

Even we’re not sure why we keep watching these Ingvordsen-Washburn-Kaman movies. Perhaps it’s because they were lesser-known contributions to video stores in the 80’s and 90’s, and there’s something interesting about that. And some of them aren’t that bad, like The Outfit (1993). So when we see one, we usually give it a try. 

Covert Action is a political drama with some action elements in the flashbacks. Some of the ‘Nam battle scenes are okay, even though they don’t have a lot of personality or pizazz, much like the rest of this outing. But still, there’s the Prerequisite Torture of the hero. Who of course is shirtless. No one ever forgets that, unfortunately.

The action in this movie is indeed covert, as in, we couldn’t really find it. But that didn’t stop the filmmakers from recycling some footage into Cyber Vengeance (1997). Some of that footage even includes Senator Stumper, a guy whose real last name is Stumper. Apparently they couldn’t let a name like that go to waste. (Even Rick Washburn plays “Rick Burns”, apparently just taking out the wash and adding an S. Great.) But as previously noted, he looks alarmingly like Seinfeld, and you think at any moment you’re going to hear some poppin’ bass and Stumper say “what’s the deal with political corruption?”

So while the sniper subplot was mildly interesting, it can’t really compare with higher-budget efforts like Sniper (1993) and Decoy (1995). Or, maybe it can. In all honesty, it could have competed, but characters weren’t developed enough, which is surprising considering how talky the movie is overall. So despite some of the war-shooting and all that, Covert Action is ultimately old-fashioned, dry, and, sadly, boring.

So if you want to see a political thriller/war movie on a low budget, by all means check it out. But its flaws are many. Some energy and character development would have worked wonders. But because those are largely not present, Covert Action is condemned to the lost video store shelf of history.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Dreaming The Reality (1991)

Dreaming The Reality (1991)- * * *

Directed by: Chin-Ku Lu

Starring: Eddy Ko, Moon Lee, Yukari Oshima, Sibelle Hu, and Ben Lam

While under the care of their foster father named Fok (Eddy Ko), two young girls, Silver Fox, and her Sister (who will later grown up to be Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima, respectively) are trained in the ways of guns, assassinations and killing. Fok is a ruthless gangster boss who thinks nothing of using his daughters to eliminate anyone who he sees fit. But one of them may not be cut out for the life of a covert assassin...which one will it be? 

Meanwhile, a woman named Sister Lan (Hu) and her brother Rocky (Lam) are big boxing fans. Rocky tries his hand at the Thai boxing style and is successful, but falls under the spell of a diabolical promoter named Mr. Chin. When the two killer sisters go to Thailand and end up crossing paths with the other two siblings, the stage is set for an action-packed finale in which true motivations are revealed. Who will be living in the real world and who will be DREAMING THE REALITY?

Dreaming the Reality was another one of those elusive titles that was hard to find in America. The title doesn’t even seem like it would be for an action film. But indeed it is, and it’s a cross between an assassin movie and a boxing movie. 

It was about time someone mashed those two things together. There’s nothing wrong with that, however, and the movie has that early-90’s HK feel we all know and love. There’s more than enough shooting and fighting to satisfy just about anyone, and fans of this genre especially should be pleased. Especially with the trio of Yukari Oshima, Moon Lee and Sibelle Hu at the forefront. This was the height of the Hong Kong “girls with guns” craze, and here is another prime example. Oshima and Lee do look very cool with their sunglasses and trenchcoats. Sibelle Hu is the sort of tomboyish “normal” girl. But the three of them are truly the selling point, along with the action scenes of course.

There are some extended boxing sequences that get kind of repetitive and numbing after a while, which is probably the only real negative we can say about Dreaming the Reality. They tend to slow down the pace of the movie, and at 98 minutes, something could have been trimmed. 

Of course, plotwise, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way, and an action movie from the early 90’s wouldn’t be complete without a sought-after floppy disk. In this particular case it’s orange, which makes for a nice visual change from the usual black.

There’s not much more to say, really...fans of HK action cinema will surely enjoy it, and even non-fans could potentially find something in it for them. It’s a solidly entertaining movie, but it’s hampered somewhat by some pacing problems. If you can find it inexpensively, we say check it out.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


A Book Of Heroes (1987)

A Book Of Heroes (1987)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Yen-Ping Chu

Starring: Yasuaki Kurata, Hui San Yang, Yukari Oshima, Kua Hu, and Bin Bin

When a nefarious Japanese crime lord named Yamashita (Kurata) moves in on Hong Kong territory, it sets off a chain of events which lead to a lot of conflicts and confusion. When a shipment of gold bars disappears, Yamashita wants to get his hands on it, but so do a lot of other people. Hu Pai (Kua Hu) is a cop attempting to take down Yamashita and his gang, and along the way he must take Miss Yang (???), who isn’t a licensed police officer, but she wants to be, so she uses her considerable Martial Arts skill to take down the baddies on her own! 

Meanwhile a woman named Shanshan (Hui San Yang) and a mustachioed man named David are also in search of the gold, but that’s secondary to Shanshan’s true goal of getting revenge by trying to kill Yamashita. But Yamashita has an ace in the hole in the form of a talented bodyguard (played by Yukari Oshima). Naturally it all comes to a head in a big final blowout fight. Who will end up in the BOOK OF HEROES?

We were happy to finally track down and see Book of Heroes, because, at least in America, it’s a tough one to get a hold of, making this an under-the-radar Martial Arts extravaganza. Indeed, the fights are amazingly well-choreographed, and a pure pleasure to watch. They have that outrageously fast, kinetic, acrobatic style that the late 80’s-early 90’s HK action films are known for. And if that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed. Of course, the stunts and fights are the main highlights of the movie, but that wacky humor seen in most films from this time and place is here too. Presumably it’s all part of the entertainment package.

The minions of the main baddie are all called “Rats” (as some sort of gang name?), and of course there is the time-honored map to the missing gold, but if there’s one standout scene in the movie, it’s the one with Bin Bin. You might remember Bin Bin as the kid from the previous year’s Magic Crystal (1986), and sadly Book of Heroes is his last credited movie role to date. This young tot plays “Little Fighter” who helps out in his own way during a fight scene, and is never seen again. However, the filmmakers didn’t make much effort to conceal his adult-sized stunt double, which leads to hilarious results. What was it like to have a grown man walking around in knee socks and dressed exactly like Bin Bin in every way (including a colorful cap that just says “1986”) on the set? We may never know...

Some American hit songs can be heard during the movie, such as Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and Heart’s “These Dreams”. Did they get permission to use these? The rules were so much more lax in the old days. Now they would have to pay a bundle for them. In Book of Heroes, they’re just kinda there.  In the end, Book of Heroes is worth seeing. If you’re a fan of this type of movie, it does indeed deliver the goods.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Jungleground (1995)

Jungleground (1995)- * *1\2

Directed by: Don Allan

Starring: Roddy Piper, Torri Higginson, JR Bourne, Jeff Wood, and Rogue Johnston

Lt. Jake Cornell (Roddy) is a Canadian cop who is somewhat on the edge, but he gets pushed to his limits when he must survive in a ruthless, lawless urban center of the Great White North called Jungleground. The gang that controls Jungleground are a bunch of Norse mythology-inspired baddies called the “Ragnarockers” or just “Rockers” for short. Members include Thor (Wood) and Loki (Johnston), but the leader is of course Odin (Bourne). When Odin kidnaps Jake’s girlfriend Sammy (Higginson of Airborne (1998) fame) - just as he was about to propose to her, no less - he proposes to Cornell that if he can survive the night in Jungleground, he will free Sammy. So Jake must use all his survival instincts to fight through a night fraught with all sorts of obstacles. Will he make it?

Jungleground, not to be confused with Thunderground (1989), is a decent Roddy outing. Some of the most entertaining aspects of the movie are just how 90’s it is, and just how Canadian it is. Sure, Roddy is charming as usual, but how can he compete with Boy Meets World-style hair, rollerblades and high-waisted jeans? Marry that to the Canadian DTV vibe we’ve all seen many times before, and you get the general sense about the proceedings. 

This was back in the day when all Roddy had to do was flash his million-dollar smile and wear a pre-Trenchcoat Mafia trenchcoat, and you had half the movie right there. One of the flaws of the movie is that Roddy didn’t get a cool intro to his character. You’re just kind of thrown in - there should have been an action scene or at least a scene where his Chief was screaming at him because of his rogue ways. But ultimately Roddy carries the movie, so it all smooths out later.

It has all the cliches we know and love, some of which include yelling while shooting a machine gun, and the prerequisite torture. There are plenty of chases, shootouts and blow-ups, not to mention Roddy executing some classic wrestling-style moves on the baddies, so all the right ingredients are there. 

But as is often the case, the movie starts to lose steam before the climax. More than likely that’s because this is a DTV version of The Ultimate Warrior (1975), The Warriors (1979), Escape From New York (1981), or any other movie where someone has to survive/escape through a treacherous urban environment. There’s not much more to the movie than that, but do we really need any more? But to the movie’s credit, characters do say the word “Jungleground” a lot...it’s not just a movie title, it’s the name of the place - and a way of life.

While Back In Action (1993) and Tough and Deadly (1995) remain our favorite Roddy’s that we’ve seen to date, Jungleground is not bad and is probably a one-time watch.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, DTVC


Shogun's Ninja (1980)

Shogun's Ninja (1980)- * * *

Directed by: Noribumi Suzuki

Starring: Sonny Chiba, Hiroyuki Sanada, Asao Koike, and Etsuko Shihomi

Set starting in 1581 and going on, Shogun’s Ninja is the tale of Takamaru (Sanada), a member of the Momochi clan. He returns to his native Japan after a period of time in China, where it seems he spent the majority of his time studying Martial Arts. Once home, Takamaru reunites with his old buddies. 

But far from the peaceful return he had envisioned, he runs up against Hideyoshi (Koike), an evil warlord who wants to wipe out what remains of the Momochi clan so he can arrogantly assume even more power and land. His enforcer Shiranui (Chiba) is going to help make sure that happens. Of course, Hideyoshi also wants a cache of gold belonging to the Momochi clan (gold always comes in cache form, don’t’cha know) and the key to finding where it is lies on cleverly etched daggers. Meanwhile, Takamaru tries to rekindle a romantic relationship with Ai-Lian (Shihomi) - all the while utilizing his pals to fight through all the betrayals and get revenge and restore the Momochi clan. Will he do it? Find out today!

Shogun’s Ninja is an artifact well worth seeking out. It has an impeccable pedigree: produced by Toei, it stars Japanese cinema legends that even we ignorant Americans know and love: Henry Sanada, Sonny Chiba and Tetsuro Tanba. It’s directed by the legendary Noribumi Suzuki, a man with an amazing career in the Japanese film industry, and well-known to exploitation fans stateside for releases like Sex and Fury (1973), Convent of the Sacred Beast (1974) and the disturbing Beautiful Girl Hunter (1979). 

Fascinatingly, Shogun’s Ninja was his next movie after Beautiful Girl Hunter. Not only does that show the diversity and talent of Suzuki, but you can imagine that he would bring his own unique sensibility to whatever project he’s working on. Hence, Shogun’s Ninja is about as far from a dry historical slog or standard ninja slog as you can possibly get. It’s filled with stylish and interesting moments, and not just the violent bits.

And while this is a very well-directed period piece, with top-notch costumes and sets, it doesn’t skimp on the ninja action. It even has one of our favorite ninja things, the underground ninja. Suzuki brings his quirky vision to all aspects of the movie, including the action, so not only is there plenty of spinning, flipping, swordplay, nunchuks, and the like, but there’s some dancing and twirling in there as well. 

There is an interesting credit to watch out for: “Actions directed by Sonny Chiba” - not action. ACTIONS. So maybe he’s responsible for the dance moves. But there is some trapeze-like tightrope walking as well, and even Chiba couldn’t have been responsible for putting it in slow motion with a smooth jazz soundtrack over it. Probably one of the coolest aspects of Shogun’s Ninja is the soundtrack. Now we know that people, starting in the 16th Century, loved jazz funk. It may seem out of sorts, but it’s just so awesome. It’s innovations like this that set this movie apart, and keep Suzuki at the forefront of Japanese directors at this point in time.

Even a movie like this isn’t adverse to having genre mainstays like the Prerequisite Torture sequence and the training sequence. If you liked The Ninja Wars (1982) - a similar movie that also stars Sanada and Chiba - you’re going to want to check this out. 

There’s even a man named “Go Awazu” credited on the movie. He must be a lonely guy. In the U.S., Shogun’s Ninja was released by Media on VHS back in the day. In the DVD era, however, it has shamefully fallen into the clutches of the makers of those one-dollar gas station DVD’s. The movie deserves much, much better. A cleaned-up, widescreen, subtitled, high quality DVD would do wonders for this movie’s reputation. It truly deserves a better treatment than it has gotten. But that being said, if you happen to see it somewhere, pick it up. It’s definitely worth it.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, 10k Bullets!


The Siege Of Firebase Gloria (1989)

The Siege Of Firebase Gloria (1989)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Brian Trenchard-Smith

Starring: Wings Hauser, R. Lee Ermey, Gary Hershberger and Margi Gerard

In the thick of the Vietnam war, Sgt. Hafner (Ermey) is told to defend Firebase Gloria against the Viet Cong at all costs. His top man, Di Nardo (Wings) is there to back him up. But due to the dangerous and precarious situation, and the many obstacles the men face, Di Nardo begins to crack. The jaded Di Nardo’s faith in humanity seems somewhat restored by his growing love for a young Vietnamese child he rescued, who he nicknamed Peewee, but the enemy is on the move, and even idealistic medics like Flanagan (Gerard) will have to challenge their own assumptions about the world. The men and women at the Firebase are simply Americans forced to deal with extraordinary circumstances. Can they do it?

Brian Trenchard-Smith does it again! This amazing director, who gave us sparkling gems such as The Man From Hong Kong (1975) and Stunt Rock (1980), among so many others, here turns in a top-notch Vietnam tale. The 80’s was seemingly in the midst of a Vietnam movie boom - films such as Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Hamburger Hill (1987) and Casualties of War (1989) appeared in the mid-to-late 80’s, giving filmmakers, particularly writers and directors of a particular age, an outlet to finally look back and process what happened after the passage of a certain amount of time. 

Apparently it was all kind of a collective nostalgia of sorts, as all these movies appeared at the same time, and all of the above-mentioned movies went to the movie theater. So naturally it wasn’t long before the DTV crowd came to reap the benefits, and more modest, lower-budget ventures began to appear, perhaps best indicated by director Cirio Santiago, who spent a decent chunk of his career making jungle slogs typified by the likes of Firehawk (1993) and Eye of the Eagle III (1989). Thankfully, ‘Siege is closer to those theater-ready efforts than the latter DTV ones.

With Trenchard-Smith at the helm, and with Wings front and center, backed beautifully by Ermey, Nicholson, Strzalkowski, and the rest of the cast, it can’t fail to be a thoughtful, well-made, entertaining movie that is patriotic, but not obnoxiously so. It simply shows the soldiers in Vietnam as real, human men, put in an impossible situation, against insane odds, and attempting to survive and return home to their families. 

Add to that some firefights and war violence, and what more can you ask of the movie? It shows clearly the hardships the U.S. faced, and with the presence of Ermey, adds that much more authenticity (It’s funny how people live up to their name - R. Lee Ermey is very close to “Army” - did his parents decide his future once he was born?). Trenchard-Smith and the gang were clearly going for realism, not Hollywood bravado, and this is, in part, why The Siege of Firebase Gloria, while released in the golden year for video stores, 1989, has withstood the test of time so well.

The cast of the movie, especially Wings, were probably happy to be involved with a significant, substantive piece like this, as opposed to a lot of the crud they’re probably normally offered. Thus, Wings shines in his role. In a career of great roles, this one stands out as among his best. 

But he’s almost upstaged by someone we just heard of from this movie - an actor named Gary Hershberger, who plays Moran. Hershberger is great in the role, proving you don’t have to be a Hollywood big shot -  if you’re good, you’re good and you stand out. We always tout working actors like this - there are so many out there that are good quality actors, but are never talked about in the tabloids or sit and talk to Jay Leno. God bless Hershberger, M.C. Gainey, Jerry Wasserman, Marco Rodriguez, Barry Flatman, Wynn Irwin, and their ilk. They, in large part, are what keep movies and TV shows of the good quality we’ve come to expect and take for granted.

Released by Fries home video, whose track record of what they were able to put on video store shelves was hit-or-miss at best, scored a definite hit by acquiring this one for U.S. video release. The Siege of Firebase Gloria is indeed glorious. A winner.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty