11/29/2015

Black Force (1975)

Black Force (1975)- * * *

Directed by: Michael Fink

Starring: Warhawk Tanzania, Sam Schwartz, Sydney Filson, Malachi Lee, Judie Soriano, and Owen Wat-Son








When a guy on the streets of New York is mugged and a priceless artistic artifact stolen, the whole underworld begins buzzing. A gangster named Z (Schwartz) wants this precious statue, as does a woman named Felicia (Filson). Thankfully, a team of black-belted Martial Arts experts are on the scene to stop the artifact from getting into the wrong hands: Eric (Malachi Lee), Billy (Judie Soriano), Jason (Wat-Son, whose real name is Watson but presumably he hyphenated it to look more Asian?), and our personal hero Warhawk Tanzania as Adam. When you have a name as awesome as WARHAWK TANZANIA isn’t it a bit of a letdown naming him, simply and boringly, “Adam”? Kind of a step down if you ask us. Anyway, what ensues is a bunch of wonderful incoherency as warring factions vie for the statue. Who will get it? The bad guys or the BLACK FORCE?

Travel back in time to the freewheeling 70’s as you boogie on down to funktown in this unconstrained, uncontrived, yet unintelligible outing. The temptation is to label this as “Blaxploitation”, but really, this movie defies all labels and is a planet all to itself. That being said, it’s very much in the vein of fan favorite Death Promise (1977) (though nowhere near as good), and fellow - and only other - Warhawk vehicle Gang Wars (1976). Even Wilfredo Roldan from that film reappears here, continuing the through-line. It’s all about grimy NYC streets, funk on the soundtrack (from a band called Life, USA), and montage after montage that seems like it was edited by people who were distracted by Watergate.


But you have to remember that this was during the Kung-Fu craze of the 70’s, and material like this made a lot more sense back then, presumably. Bruce Lee was king and everybody was Kung-Fu fightii-iin. So it follows that you’d get a bunch of non-actors and semi-pro’s together and put their Dan or belt level on the screen along with their credit. Seemingly everyone is listed that way. We practically know the skill level of the best boy grip for godsakes. Or best boy Kung-Fu grip, as it were. We’re even informed via an on-screen title card before the movie that “no trick photography was used” and high-speed cameras were on hand to capture all the action. And this was decades before CGI trickery and quick cuts. Such was the reverence for the craft at the time. The problem, if it is indeed a problem, is that because of their focus on the Martial Arts, literally every other facet of the movie suffered. The result is a disjointed, incomprehensible mishmash of scenes of our heroes “hitting the streets”, with a bunch of post-dubbed dialogue that is unhearable because the music drowns it out. The only thing louder than the music are the shirts the characters are wearing. The fight scenes have no pretext before they spring up, and what dialogue you can hear is classic jive talk. You have to love it. Or maybe you don’t, it’s entirely up to you. We found it entertaining for most of the running time.

 Tailor-made for drive-in’s, Black Force was from a different time, when even the priests had very wide collars, even the baddest bad guy had a walrus ‘stache, and Martial Artists took their loud exhaling VERY seriously. There’s even a “greatest hits” segment at the end where we can see all the moves yet again. At least the music is good quality during all this madness. Besides, you know a movie is going to be good when a credit appears beforehand stating “Produced by Landfall Systems, Inc.” Apparently this wasn’t produced by a human being, but maybe a laundromat or something. Seeing as we also have a movie on the site called Whiteforce (1988), we figured we’d be fair and balanced.

Released on VHS with an unrelated guy on the box cover, the same company actually released Black Force 2 - a retitling of another film that came out two years BEFORE the original Black Force! Maybe the fans were just clamoring for more during the video store era of the 80’s. For a classic example of bellbottom-Fu - with no regard given whatsoever for coherent consistency - look no further than Black Force. And why don’t guys keep their afro-picks in their hair anymore?

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 




11/21/2015

The Hunted (2003)

The Hunted (2003)- * *1\2

Directed by: William Friedkin

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, and Connie Nielsen









Aaron Hallam (Del Toro) is a Kosovo veteran and also an unstoppable killing machine. When the mentally unstable Hallam returns home to Oregon, he continues his killing spree. This grabs the attention of FBI Special Agent Abby Durrell (Nielsen), who wants to stop him. As it turns out, this particular unhinged maniac was trained by a survival expert and knife maestro named L.T. Bonham (Jones). He’s not lieutenant Bonham, he’s L.T. Bonham, as he does point out he never was actually in the military, he just used his expertise to train the recruits. Feeling guilty that his star student is now on the rampage, Bonham comes out of retirement to do one last track, which inevitably leads into the final teacher-versus-student knife fight...but who really is THE HUNTED? Maybe we’ll all find out together...

It’s First Blood (1982) meets The Fugitive (1993) meets White Ghost (1988) as Tommy Lee Jones puts on his grizzled hat once again. This was towards the beginning of what came to be known as the GeriAction trend in Hollywood, where an older generation of actors - within a certain range, mind you - wanted to try a few last punches and kicks before they kicked off this mortal coil. Everyone from Clint Eastwood to Liam Neeson to Sean Penn have tried it lately with varying degrees of success. As anyone who reads this site knows, we almost always root for the older guys. We hate young punks and we cheer when they lose. All that being said, I think it’s fair to expect more of the great director William Friedkin than what we get here. It’s all so simple, paint-by-numbers, one-dimensional even. Some guy is on the loose and Tommy Lee Jones is “Hunting” him. Is it wrong to want just a bit more meat on the bone than that?


It feels like you’ve seen a lot of this before - just the images of Tommy Lee Jones in front of a waterfall will remind you of the aforementioned Fugitive. And a former military man with a knife that the authorities are chasing in the Pacific Northwest wilderness should bring to mind a certain Stallone movie series that we all know and love. They had enough time for the cliches we’ve all seen before, but somehow they couldn’t find the time for some character development or human drama. They even fell back on the tired “Vietnam vet goes crazy” scenario, which could certainly be argued is insensitive, if not insulting. But we may not have noticed if that hadn’t been done so many times before. The only difference is now it’s Kosovo, not Vietnam. We would think that by 2003 Hollywood would have used up every last drop of that trope, but no, apparently not.


This is one time that we can think of that we can’t necessarily sign off on approving an 88-minute running time, like we usually do. Evidently there was more character development left on the cutting room floor. While we appreciate the sentiment to try to make the movie lean and mean, a couple more dialogue scenes that might have fleshed out the characters or explained their motivations would have gone a long way. It would have helped the audience care more about the Bonham-Hallam relationship, which would have increased the suspense. The filmmakers also seemed ambivalent about Connie Nielsen’s character - they should have given her more screen time or axed her altogether. As it stands, she’s just kinda there. We would have opted for more Nielsen, as her run on Law & Order: SVU were some of the best episodes of that series to date. The Hunted could have used a tough female, Dani Beck-like character.

Looking at the movie a mere twelve years later (TWELVE years have passed since this came out? Maybe it’s not so mere after all), it’s hard to believe it got a theater release. If this was released today it would go DTV or on-demand, almost certainly. While it does contain the appropriate amount of action and violence - we even get some classic Tommy Lee Jones-Fu, or, to be more accurate, a Filipino fighting style called Sayoc Kali - it’s hard to shake the feeling something is missing here. Perhaps we should hire L.T. Bonham to hunt it down...but then we’d be right back to where we started, wouldn’t we?

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 

11/14/2015

Born To Fight (1989)

Born To Fight (1989)- * * *

Directed by: Bruno Mattei

Starring: Brent Huff, Werner Pochath, Mary Stavin, and Romano Puppo






Sam Wood (Huff) is a Vietnam War vet who is still chillin’ in ‘Nam because he “feels more free there”. When a female reporter named Maryline (not a typo) Kane (Stavin) approaches him about being in a news package about returning to Vietnam, he reluctantly accepts. It soon transpires that the whole thing about being on TV was just a ruse to get Wood to go back behind enemy lines to rescue Maryline’s father, who is still a prisoner of war at the Lu Tan prison camp. She sought him out because he’s a one-man army with a surprisingly positive attitude. His motto of “It can be done!” is downright infectious. But rescuing dear old dad isn’t going to be a walk in the Philippine park. He has to contend with super-evil arch-baddie Duan Loc (Pochath), his toady Bross (Puppo), and a never-ending stream of tan-outfitted, triangular-hat-wearing troops...who bring new meaning to the term ‘cannon fodder’! Will Sam and Maryline be the new Sam and Diane? Or will he prove once and for all that he is BORN TO FIGHT?

Man, Bruno Mattei was sure on a roll in the late ‘80s. To think that this one man, in this one short span of time, turned loose on the world Strike Commando (1987), Double Target (1987), Cop Game (1988), Robowar (1988), Strike Commando 2 (1988), and the movie up for discussion today, is just insane. Sure, he may have recycled a bit of footage here and there, but who’s counting exploding huts? And this is just ONE guy! Never mind all the many others churning out video store-era gems at the time. Yeah, this never came out on VHS in the U.S., but you get our point.


Both Huff and Mary Stavin return from Strike Commando 2, and while there is some standard bickering between them, this is truly Huff at his best and coolest. As some sort of lost-in-translation-from-the-original-Italian cross between Indiana Jones and Sonny Crockett - when he’s not channeling Clint Eastwood with his low-slung cowboy hat and cigar stub - he drinks snake venom at a bar and massacres countless people with his machine guns and grenades. He has a lot of funny lines, mainly after he kills some baddies: “Shut up!”, “Shove it!”, “You started it!”, etc., though it could be forgiven if it seems like his dialogue was written by one of those push-button insult machines of the time. Still, this is the Huff you want, unlike The Bad Pack (1997), which was disappointing Huff.


Werner Pochath is notable as the evil baddie named Duan Loc, who has an ‘Evil German’ accent. Helpfully, he cries, “Sam Wood isn’t like other people. He thinks he’s inWINCEable! He was born to fight!” It’s also handy to know there are massive battalions of Viet Cong soldiers still on the attack in 1989. The hotel assault scene is a movie highlight, as is the climax, with a mega-kill count and exploding huts galore. It’s amazing the jungles of the Philippines were able to survive after all that was blown up there. But it’s all for our entertainment, and even with the repeated footage (both dialogue scenes and blow-up scenes), it all adds up to a golden age of filmmaking never to be repeated. We should really treasure the output of this time and place.

The soundtrack by Al Festa certainly won’t be confused for John Williams anytime soon, no matter how hard he tries. We certainly preferred the non-ripoff synthesizer themes. That’s what these movies are all about. Blow-ups, shooting, and the craziness in between. You gotta love it.

God bless Bruno Mattei and all his hut-exploding ilk. The reverberations from the explosions that they created are still being felt today.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 

11/08/2015

Southern Comfort (1981)



Southern Comfort (1981)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Walter Hill

Starring: Powers Booth, Keith Carradine, Brion James, T.K. Carter, and Fred Ward









In 1973, a regiment of the Louisiana National Guard travel out to the remote bayou for a routine training mission. The men, including Spencer (Carradine), Hardin (Boothe), Reece (Ward), Poole (Coyote), and Cribbs (Carter) have differing attitudes towards life and their situation. It all seems simple enough, but when they accidentally draw the ire of some local Cajun folk, the crafty Cajuns start killing them off one by one as punishment for their perceived incursion into their territory. Not to mention their capture of a local man, simply known as Trapper (James). Now trying to survive with limited resources in a harsh and unfamiliar environment, our National Guardsmen literally have to fight their own war at home. Who will die, who will survive, and who will live to find out the true meaning of SOUTHERN COMFORT?

Only the genius of the great Walter Hill could take elements of the Wilderness Horror subgenre, the war movie, the Western, the suspense thriller, and the Asian-style “Heroic Bloodshed” film, and tie it all together with allegorical and metaphorical themes and undercurrents, all the while on the surface allowing it to appear to be a Deliverance/Most Dangerous Game-style survival outing. Strictly speaking, this isn’t a straight-up action movie, though it certainly has those elements, but Hill’s style, especially with this movie, was so imitated and duplicated in the years following this, we just had to include it here for being the benchmark that it is. Just watch any Cirio Santiago-directed jungle slog or any Italian war film shot in the Philippines (i.e. Eye of the Eagle III or Dogtags, respectively) and you’ll see what we mean. The influence of Southern Comfort reverberated throughout the video store era of the 80’s/early 90’s and beyond, and it’s easy to see why. There’s a certain disturbing quality to it, especially in the final third. And as much as we enjoyed Hunter’s Blood (1986), that film can’t really compete with the staying power of Southern Comfort, because there’s so much more depth here, despite the surface similarities. Or perhaps it’s the presence of Joey Travolta. One or the other.


The cast is killer, the Louisiana locations are both picturesque and unsettling (captured gorgeously by cinematographer Andrew Laszlo), and the Ry Cooder score is the icing on the cake. The cumulative effect of the clever writing, brilliant direction, the great cast, strange yet pretty locations and the top-notch score is powerfully effective. You can’t ask for much more. If we have one minor quibble, it’s that the 105-minute running time might have been able to be trimmed down a tad. But everything else is in the “win” column for this fine film.

In high school English class, we learned about the four main drivers of narrative conflict. These are: Man against man, man against society, man against nature and man against self. Southern Comfort is one of the few movies that articulately expresses ALL of the four conflicts. But one of the other themes - and a constant in the work of Walter Hill - particularly stood out: the nature of masculinity. What does it mean to be “a man”? Is there a type of man that is “best”? One that is more effective? Does losing at a certain conflict make you “less of a man”? All these questions and many more are lurking just beneath the surface.


Hill also shows that not all the Vietnam-era action happened in Vietnam. This provides a point of difference that is worth noting. There’s some un-PC dialogue we all love and enjoy, and much like The Thing (1982), there are almost no women in the entire movie. The Shout Factory DVD/Blu-Ray combo is the package to buy - the movie looks brilliant and there is an insightful documentary included as well.

Southern Comfort is much more than a “man’s movie” - it cleverly explores themes that are damn near primordial in mankind. But it never loses its power to entertain, which is what good storytelling is all about. We strongly recommend it.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett

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

11/01/2015

Double Target (1987)

Double Target (1987)- * * *

Directed by: Bruno Mattei

Starring: Miles O'Keefe, Donald Pleasence, David Anderson, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua, Luciano Pigozzi, Kristine Erlandson, and Bo Svenson









When Major General Howard Stern is assassinated in Hong Kong (apparently someone’s not a fan), and further suicide attacks occur in Kuala Lumpur and the Philippines, the U.S. government calls in American commando/American hero/American badass Robert “Bob” Ross (O’Keeffe). This guy isn’t painting fluffy little clouds anymore. All Ross wants to do is get legal custody of the son he had in Vietnam with his now-deceased wife, and bring him back to the good old U.S. of A. But the questionable Senator Blaster (Pleasance) (shouldn’t that have been O’Keeffe’s name in the movie?) forces him to go on a dangerous mission in order to find his son - track down the evil russkies Col. Galckin (Svenson) and his henchman Talbukin (Anderson) and their never-ending army of goons, and eliminate them. In order to do this, Ross teams up with an in-country contact, Toro (Dell’Acqua), as well as those sympathetic to his cause, McDouglas (Pigozzi) and his daughter Mary (Erlandson, who has an impressive resume of these types of movies). Ross even offers to take Mary back to America along with him and his son...but under such heavy fire, will they all make it?

Blow-ups, shooting, O’Keeffe punching people, exploding huts, exploding guard towers, guard tower falls, exploding helicopters. It truly never gets old, unless it’s done wrong. And as we always say, the Italians made the best jungle-set exploding hutters, and here is no exception. Bruno Mattei is at the helm for this particular leafy-green violence fest, and he doesn’t disappoint. His work can be hit or miss, to say the least, but this is a minor hit. Minor because fellow O’Keeffe-starred Italian jungle epic The Hard Way is better, but Double Target hits the mark, if I may keep the shooting theme going.  The only real flaw is that it’s about eleven minutes too long. Yes, eleven.


Probably because they tried to develop certain dramatic themes, and that takes time. We’re always crying out for more character development, so it would be hypocritical of us to criticize the filmmakers for that, and we won’t. But there’s only so much of Donald Pleasance sitting at a desk coughing into his inhaler that any audience can reasonably stand. To be fair, though, his scenes with Mike Monty are perfectly fine, and when Pleasance, Monty, and O’Keeffe are all together, it’s a B-Movie action fan’s dream come true.

O’Keeffe has never been cooler, and that’s saying something because he’s usually pretty darn cool. It’s a joy to watch him mow down evil Russians, charge through fruit cart chases, and ignite entire villages with his rocket launcher. He even takes on a shark in an amazing bit of man-to-shark combat. That was definitely a movie highlight. It’s all set to an ace Stefano Mainetti score, which helps a lot. Mainetti also did the music for the closing song, “Losing You”, sung by Rosanna Napoli. It’s always funny when, after a viewer is subjected to 102 minutes of violence and bloodshed, a tender, romantic ballad plays over the credits. It’s all part of the anti-mainstream, illogical fun that comes with these pre-CGI-era blow-up movies.

In misspelled credits news, we are informed of the many people that worked hard on the Philippine Crow. They must have meant “crew”. When English isn’t your first language, unpredictable things can happen when you try to print it on screen. Once again, it’s part of the unique experience. Either that or they employed a Philippine crow to relay messages back and forth amongst the crewmembers on the set. Seems economical.

Never released in the U.S., Double Target represents the exploding hut era well, with some really nice explosions and some other fine attributes. Really only because of its slightly overlong running time does it not reach the heights achieved by some of its competitors, but it is a more than worthy addition to the ‘cannon’, if you will.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up by our buddy, Cool Target!