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Review The Quest (1996): Van Damme's directorial debut fails!

genre: martial arts, action, adventure, drama

There used to be a time Van Damme could do no wrong. I consumed almost every film he served. The Quest was one of them. Normally I can remember almost every event of a film I have seen. But apart from the fights I had trouble remembering the other events. And there is a good reason for that.

It's clear that Van Damme tried to remake Bloodsport but only in another setting and time. For whatever reason The Quest is a period piece where the best fighters of the world receive an invitation to compete in a prestigious tournament. Most of these fighters are champions of a specific martial art that have no roots to the country they represent. So why this tournament is putting countries against each other is beyond me. I guess Van Damme wanted to make this film more global and bigger. His ambition doesn't stop here. He also has implemented several sub plots that don't go anywhere. One of them is a plot concerning him and a group of street kids who are pursued by the mob and the police for robbing the gangsters. The kids get caught and Van Damme flees the scene with the intention to bail the kids out. We are never shown how he does this. Yet in the epilogue we are told he managed to get the kids off the streets. No mention of the gangsters and the consequences of having robbed them. The mafia would never ever let that slide. If anything the ending is so rushed you never get a proper send off from Dobbs and Harry Smythe (Roger Moore and Jack McGee). These two are the only ones who give this film some credibility. 

Now you might be wondering why I make such a big deal about the plot and not the martial arts which you would assume would be the main event. And it is, sort of. The film has a duration of 95 minutes. The tournament starts after 53 minutes or so. Doesn't sound like much. However it feels like forever. The pacing is so slow. Now if the fights were of the same quality that were featured in Bloodsport that would have been awesome. Except everything that made Bloodsport fun is completely absent here. Sure some fighters are exceptionally skilled. But none of the fights feel like there is something at stake. Not even the fight between Van Damme and Abdel Qissi. One might think that Qissi is the big baddie. Surprisingly enough there is nothing exceptional about him except his size. He never speaks and apart from a few acts you could consider him as a jerk. But someone you want to beat to a pulp? Nope. It's like Van Damme has completely forgotten what made Bloodsport and Kickboxer so good. While both had relative simple stories the fights were exhilarating and exciting. The fights in The Quest are boring. Some of are over before you know it and they also couldn't be bothered to have a montage with cool music. Actually that is the one thing that is truly generic. The background music is so dull and uninspired. I get that they were going for a more triple A approach but it almost sounds like they used the first copy of stock sounds they could get a hold off. 

Ambition and scale wise The Quest should have been an epic. But lack of experience or perhaps incompetency prevented that from happening. Mind you The Quest could have been far worse. Thankfully veteran actors like Roger Moore made the film far better than it deserved. I can't in good conscience recommend this. 

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Review The Taking of Tiger Mountain a.k.a. Zhi qu wei hu shan (2014): A Tsui Hark light!

genre: action, adventure, biography, war

Believe it or not The Taking of Tiger Mountain is based on a historic novel concerning an incident between the PLA (People Liberation's Army) and a group of bandits called the Kuomintang. That is about as much history you are going to get. Because everything else plays out like a serious fantasy drama.

I don't really know what to think of this film as it doesn't feel like a Tsui Hark film at all. It's devoid of humour for one thing and the action while good is not that special or creative. The good guys are pretty likable even if we don't really get to know them well. But enough to learn that they truly are good people. It seems like Hark really was trying to be true to telling this story and take him seriously. But how can I if the villains of the story look and act like cartoon characters. It doesn't make sense for the leader played by Tony Kai Fai Leung to look like Heihachi Mishima. But he really doesn. Why?

However at the end of the film footage is shown of the original 1960 film. Seems like Tsui Hark has mimicked the style and atmosphere of that film. And from the little that is shown it plays out like a play where the actors wear thick make-up and prosthetics. It's commendable but is exactly one of the reasons why I was unable to take events that seriously even if the entire cast take the material seriously. Sure I did find myself rooting for the good guys. How can you not be? They are so wholesome and caring who wouldn't side with them? And this brings me to my other complaint. None of the characters have any depth. What you see is what you get. Apart from some surprises almost every character and event is predictable. There are some moments that are touching and thrilling but I wished there were more of them. That and I would have really like some more context and info on the factions and soldiers involved. Why are the bandits rebelling against the PLA? How significant was this battle? I mean I get it's huge. But how huge in the grand scheme of things?

I tuned into this film solely for the action and spectacle I know Tsui Hark can deliver. And to a certain extent he provides good action. But spectacular, wacky and insane?  Not in the slightest. Overall I found the whole viewing experience to be underwhelming. While I get that we are supposed to believe the main characters were heroic it doesn't feel like that. 

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Review Sky Hunter a.k.a. Kong tian lie (2017): Great action flick!

genre: action, drama, war

Another film met with great criticism for being too patriotic, nationalistic and blatant propagandistic. Very likely this is all true. But how is this different from those Hollywood blockbusters where only Americans are capable of saving the world. Come on! If Hollywood is allowed to make such films then who are we to deny that China does the same! Besides as long as it is as entertaining as this film I have no problems with the Chinese boasting about their military capabilities whether it's true or not.

Although this doesn't mean I condone any wrongdoing on the part of the Chinese regime. It's downright disgusting especially considering in their treatment towards the people including their celebrities like Fan BingBing who is the female lead. She apparently received no wage. I am not sure if this was because she was doing this as a favour to her then fiancee, actor and director Jerry Lee (Li Chen) who plays the lead. Or if this was part of punishment enforced on her for supposed tax evasion. (I have seen how many Chinese bought into her crime and very few actually questioned or criticized how she was publicly shamed and used as an example. I think that is even worse.) 

Sky Hunter is very much like a Jerry Bruckheimer film. Hell, they even have used Hans Zimmer's music to make it feel very similar. And like in a Bruckheimer film you get introduced to the characters and are briefly shown what they are about. There should be no surprise that these characters have only minor flaws and are heroes through and through. Naturally it's a bit much if you allow it to be. If you have to believe this film the Chinese Air force is perfect. One character even states this in a speech which (if you think about it) is quite sick. However you do get invested in these characters which made me root for them all the way. And this is what matters since it made the action more exciting. You don't want these characters to get hurt. You want them to succeed! Of course I would have like deeper characters who aren't too good or perfect. But the villains of the story also are quite flat and predictable. They are ruthless and evil. In that regard it makes sense for the good guys to be super good and the bad guys to be extremely evil.

First and foremost it's the action I tuned in for. And it's great. Pretty nifty aerial combat and also enough military combat on the ground. Not as stylish or superbly choreographed as in Operation Red Sea for example but just enough. Definitely worth a watch! 

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Review Into the Sun (1991) and The Glimmer Man (1996)

I will share my thoughts on two films from the Nineties that are unrelated to each other. I know that Steven Seagal is featured in a film called Into the Sun as well, but that one was produced in 2005 and is a film I already reviewed and is one that should be avoided since it's bad, real bad.

Once upon a time Top Gun was a phenomenon and almost every filmmaker wanted to jump on the bandwagon. Understandable of course since it was a gigantic blockbuster hit. 

But Into the Sun has bigger ambitions. In, what I assume is an attempt to differentiate itself from Top Gun, it also copies The Hard Way. Another blockbuster hit where an actor wants to ride along a hardboiled cop so that he can learn what it's like to be a real cop. But wait it doesn't end here. Into the Sun also uses stock footage from Iron Eagle. And maybe this does sound like a bit much but honestly director Fritz Kiersch has managed to make a compelling and entertaining film. I mean it's not something you should be taking seriously. Since for the most part there is a comedic tone infused in events. It doesn't always match well with the second part of the film but even then the film is quite light. Anthony Michael Hall plays the actor who gets to rile up Michael Paré as the veteran pilot. Paré is an interesting choice since I can't recall him actually having comedic timing. He truly often comes across as a super straight guy who would rarely break the rules. In that regard he fits this role nicely. However there are some scenes where it was required to bite back a bit and those moments fall flat. It's almost admirable how his character remains so calm when dealing with actor Tom Slade. Anthony Michael Hall is truly your stereotype diva who is lazy and obnoxious. Yet you don't totally hate him since there is a charm to him. Don't get me wrong. Hall can be a real fine actor. But he certainly is no Michael J. Fox. At least he was able to give his characters more layers. 

When even Capt. Paul Watkins (Michael Paré) loses his cool he takes Tom Slade on an unauthorized flight to teach him a lesson. But by doing so they both get into deep trouble because of antagonizing Middle Easterners. You probably can guess what happens. It's here where the action really kicks in. The aerial combat is pretty satisfying. Especially in the finale. But it's never super thrilling or exciting. In that regard I think this film should and could have used more action scenes. 

That being said, I had fun from start to finish. Sometimes that's all I want.

The Glimmer Man doesn't refer to the serial killer in the film but is a reference to Steven Seagal who is so silent and deadly that he can waltz in and out without people even realizing he is there. Don't let the fact that almost every action scene in this film is pretty loud and noticeable get in the way of that notion though. Just saying!

While The Glimmer Man is far from Steven's best it's not that bad either. It's very passable as a buddy cop flick where Seagal very successfully manages to land some effective one liners. And when I say effective. I mean they are so bad that they made me laugh. No, seriously, Steven Seagal is actually funny in this. I don't know why or how but it's true. Perhaps Keenen Ivory Wayans had something to do with that. Or it could be that for once Seagal had some fun making this film. I highly doubt it. But it's better not to dwell on it too much. For the most part the action is fun to watch. Exactly what you would expect. Back when I was about to watch this for the first time I did have hope for the serial killer angle to give us some tension and thrills. I do wonder why they didn't. Since that could have made the film a little more interesting. Then again with Steven Seagal in the lead this wouldn't be possible. He simply doesn't have the acting chops to pull that off. Then why even go there? Obviously because of Se7en. But why not venture into that territory a little deeper instead of what they came up with now. Don't worry I won't spoil. Not that there is much to spoil. It is incredibly silly. Although to be honest, it could have worked with much better writing and a better lead. I think Wayans on his own would have been able to play around with it. Seagal definitely not.

In the end The Glimmer Man is your average good versus bad guys plot where Seagal gets to crack a lot of bones back when he was still somewhat likeable in his films.

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Review Godzilla vs. Kong (2021): Highly flawed but fun. For the most part it gives what the fans want!

genre: kaiju, action, adventure, science fiction

When it was announced that Godzilla vs. Kong was going to be a thing I can't deny that excitement got a hold for me for a few minutes. Then reality hit and I hoped and prayed that this MonsterVerse film would be more like Kong: Skull Island. Because let's face it. It's the only American that seemed to get what the fans really want.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts was done with monster films but said that he would not discount returning after he rocked Kong: Skull Island. Unfortunately he did not return. Instead Adam Wingard took over the helm. You might know him from the excellent The Guest and You're Next. In those movies he demonstrated that he understood the sub genres and that he is capable of adding his own unique touch to them. In that regard I think the film was in good hands. And for the most part I think he delivered. However I will never understand Hollywood's obsession with infusing human characters into these films so much. Granted they need to have some role. But in service of the monsters and not the other way around. Hollywood seems incapable of letting the monsters take center stage. I didn't care for any of the human characters. The only time I did was in Kong: Skull Island because they actually were a good addition and never detracted from the monster action as it's supposed to be. You will have to endure the antics of a super paranoid security guy who seems to be able to deduce events and developments just from seeing certain objects once. It's truly amazing and utterly annoying. I know he is there for comic relief. Except he wasn't really that funny. I'd rather had John C. Reilly return. At least he provided real laughs and some dramatic impact to boot. A real deaf actress is introduced and why I don't really understand the forced inclusion of all kinds of minorities she did have some nice chemistry with Kong. For some reason Milli Bobby Brown is dragged into this film as well. She does very little to be honest. I guess the only reason she is there is to tie in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The villains of the story also are only there to put a giant plot element forward. They themselves have little to no depth. Even if the actors try to ham it up big time.

I am actually surprised how little is going on story wise. And on the one hand that is a real shame. On the other hand who cares? All I want is to see some A grade monster action and in the end that is what you get. Incredibly predictable but oh so satisfying. It's obvious we are supposed to root for Kong who easily is a favourite of mine too. Still I can't help but feel that Godzilla deserved more love and attention. He is present at the most pivotal moments. But he is not there as much as I would have like to. He is more like a side character in his own film. This is why it's particularly upsetting that a lot of screen time goes to the human characters instead of him. Anyway the action scenes were awesome and even had an emotional impact on me. Can't deny that most of it is purely nostalgia and love for these monsters. And that casual viewers won't understand what actually is going on. But to be honest that will always be a problem when it comes to genre films. I for one am glad that this Hollywood film at least delivered the goods even it is in somewhat handicapped form.

Overall Godzilla vs. Kong delivers. I really regret it that I have not been able to watch this in the cinema. I surely hope this pandemic will end soon. And when it does I hope they will re-release this film on the big screen so that I can enjoy it as is intended. 

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Review Collateral Damage (2002): An Arnie light but entertaining enough if you aren't to demanding!

genre: action, drama, thriller

Collateral Damage feels like a late Eighties or early Nineties action film that for some reason got released too late. I am aware that because of 9/11 the release of this film was postponed for a year still doesn't explain why the film looks and plays out as a direct to video title. 

It's rather shocking how cheaply made this looks at times. It had a substantial budget of around 85 million dollars. With that amount there is no excuse why this film looks so cheap. Certainly there are some moments that look big and explosive however it never feels like it's grand. Almost like a lot of the violence and explosions have been toned down. Maybe they cut the film to make it less violent and hurtful because of 9/11. I almost want to blame director Andrew Davis but I know it can't be him since there are hints of his brilliance he had shown in Above the Law, Under Siege and The Fugutive. Perhaps it's Arnie himself who basically plays everyman. Except he is a fireman and therefore has some aptitude to be strong and knowledgeable about explosions. I guess it works. When disaster strikes and his wife and son get killed due to a large explosion set off by terrorist The Wolf Arnie's character is out for revenge. 

What ensues is his journey to get his revenge. The one thing I found ironic whether it was intentional or not that Jordy Brewer (Arnie) gets outraged even further for his wife and son to be called collateral damage. They weren't supposed to get hurt but it's waved off as regrettable but unavoidable. On his path to death and destruction many innocent people get caught in the crossfire. Sure one could argue these people were all bad people in their own right. However they didn't do anything to him and certainly didn't deserve death as a result of being involved with him. Jordy never reflects on this. And even the main villains fail to make a convincing argument against Jordy's actions. Still not going to lie. When the action is happening it's sweet. Perhaps not entirely same as Arnie in his good years but still a whole lot better than the direct to video crap that is made today. 

Overall there are a lot of flaws and problems with this film if you allow those to become an issue for you. But if you just take this for what it is. An old school action film featuring Arnie kicking ass. How can you go wrong? 

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Review Terminator: Dark Fate (2019): I had a good time watching this!

genre: action, adventure, science fiction

It's been a while I had seen this but had not written the review yet so I was forced to revisit the film and was pleasantly surprised that the second viewing was just as good as the first time I watched it. Sure there are some flaws or problems. But to the magnitude some fans have may you believe? Not at all.

After the disaster that was Terminator: Genisys I had little to no hope they would be able to correct that mistake. In a way they did and in a way they didn't. Like with many productions who have written themselves in a corner they basically did the only thing they could do and reboot the franchise. However including Schwarzenegger and the original story featuring him. In essence Dark Fate is a sequel to Terminator 2: Judgement Day in an alternate timeline to Rise of the Machines, Salvation and Genisys. So events of those films did happen but in a different timeline so that technically they still belong to the same franchise. But of course we know they rather want you to forget about those parts. So how does Dark Fate fare? Is it a step into the right direction? To be honest I think in that regard Dark Fate plays it far too safe. Even with the blatant retconning of pivotal characters. While Dark Fate is supposed to be a sequel it at the same time is a reboot with the same story about a machine set out to terminate a future threat. Only this time with a twist. I personally didn't have any problems with the twist except for maybe the fact that by doing so even the original and Judgement Day have become obsolete. And I also didn't have problems with the protector being an enhanced human being. 

In fact it helped make the action more fun. And to be honest it's the action that is the real saving grace of this film. That in combination with some old school quips from Arnold and Linda Hamilton made it entertaining for me. I actually thought there were even some touching moments here and there. The new Terminator had some impressive abilities. It's too bad that he is never truly menacing as Arnie or Robert Patrick were. I do think they dropped the ball on this approach since it was the fact that the Terminator never ever stopped that made both of them so scary.  

Did I want more new and creative storytelling? Of course. But I can't deny I had a good time watching this. It's certainly a major improvement on Genisys. So don't believe the naysayers, it's pretty entertaining if you don't get bogged down by some of the SJW politics. 

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Review Project A a.k.a. A gai waak (1983): A true Jackie Chan classic!

genre: martial arts, action, comedy

One of the early Jacky Chan films I had the pleasure to watch when I was very young. I loved it then and I love it now. From start to finish there is an energy to the film that never lets up. It's a constant flow of comedy, crazy fights and insane stunts. These are intertwined with a few moments of dramatic reflection. It's almost the perfect film. 

Naturally there is no such thing and obviously even this masterpiece has it's flaws. But it's close. If an old film like this is still ticking all the right boxes and is never boring or slow then you know you got a classic on your hands. There are a few key factors that made this happen. For one the combined direction of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. On their own they are capable of creating works of arts. It's no wonder that these two combined are able to do even more. But wait, like with most of the early films Yuen Biao is not far behind. He is considered the bravest and most capable acrobatic wise. And yes there is enough here to showcase his abilities. That being said both Jackie and Sammo also display some super moves like it's nothing. There is one stunt in particular where Jackie's character has to drop down from a clock tower, with very little to no safe net at all. What the hell was he thinking? He could have died. He apparently performed the stunt 3 times. That is A grade dedication right there.

Another element is the exquisite slapstick comedy. There have been older films of which I thought they were timeless and forever funny only to be let down when I viewed them now. Fortunately this is not the case with Project A. And I think it has to do a lot with the energy and the actors involved. I guess everyone must have been having fun making this film. Even some of the ladies aren't spared. One especially is subjected to some graceful but obviously painful sliding. Funny as hell though!

Last but not least, the spectacle. Or should I say the scale of the spectacle. There are a few big action sequences consisting of fights, chase scenes and heavy acrobatics. Naturally these scenes are filmed individually. But they have the appearance of happening in real time. And what better to view this on the Eureka Blu-Ray which is a 2K remaster. While not as good as the 4K remaster of Super Cop it's crisp, clean and very nice looking. Let's just say I am very happy to have been able to purchase it which also includes Project Part II. Apparently these Blu-Rays are out of stock and hard to find.

Overall this film is one Jackie Chan's best. If you are a fan you owe it to yourself to own it. It's one you will enjoy over and over again.

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Review True Lies (1994): Flawed James Cameron classic!

genre: action, adventure, comedy, espionage

True Lies basically is a James Bond film with Schwarzenegger as Bond. If that is not different enough for you. They also put a twist on things by adding a wife and daughter into the mix who are unaware of Harry Tasker's real profession. Wife played by Jamie Lee Curtis is bored and daughter played by Eliza Dushku is a bit too rebellious for her age. Is Harry up for the task to make them happy again?

When it comes to bad guys Harry Tasker feels like a fish in the water. When he needs to go into action he doesn't waste a second. But he rarely is puzzled or worried. However when it comes to his wife and daughter he doesn't seem to understand that things aren't like they are supposed to be. Now this twist back in the day was that one element that made events super compelling and funny. After multiple viewings though it does lose it's effectiveness. Although the stripping scene with Jamie Lee Curtis will remain to be sexy and impressive. What I liked most about this scene is that right after Harry pretending to be a pervert tries to be romantic with her. This goes horribly wrong since his wife is literally fighting for her life and doesn't was a single second to dish out some pain. It's truly funny since even when she had no choice to be there she wouldn't sell out on her marriage and her husband. It's a bit of a shame that next to the subplot with the wife that there is no subplot concerning his daughter. Why not? I think her being so defiant warranted some extra fatherly love. And I think it would be a good lesson to teach. As a father you do need to spend quality time with your kids as well.

Even when the subplots can be a little too distracting after multiple viewings. The action scenes remain to be big and spectacular. It's not surprising since say what you will about James Cameron he knows how to do action. It doesn't really matter who you put in the cross-hairs he will make them look good. However him and Arnold Schwarzenegger combined? It's a match made in heaven.

True Lies might not always be strong and effective it's still one hell of a thrill ride even today. A must own! If there ever was a film that deserved a release on Blu-Ray, it's this film.

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Review Assault on VA-33 (2021): Die Hard in a hospital!

genre: die hard clone, action, thriller

As with many trailers they make the films look better than they are. In this case it almost feels like a con job. Naturally I wasn't expecting this to be anything other than bad. But I hoped it would have been the so bad it's good kind. Unfortunately this is not the case. Not only is this bad it's incredibly insulting.

Now I am not the biggest fan of US military. However I don't think they are a joke as much as they are portrayed in this film.This Die Hard wannabe takes plays in a VA hospital and has many military veterans as patients. Granted they are there for a reason but to have them acts as total lunatics and imbeciles is just unbelievable. Example. So like halfway in the film the terrorists had discovered someone (Sean Patrick Flannery in the John McClane role) to have escaped. Their response it to put C4 explosives on every exit so no one can go in and out without dying. Why they didn't do this in the first place is beyond me. But ok whatever. One of the veterans played by Rachel True most famous for her role in The Craft gets a chance to flee. Right before she wants to go out one of the exits Jason Hill (Sean Patrick Flannery) warns her. Even the terrorist chasing her tells her this. Rachel's character looks at the door, sees the explosives, opens the door anyway. Why? Am I supposed to believe that she was so shell shocked that she couldn't believe her own eyes? Let's say she really had the worst kind of PTSD and she would have been erratic and paranoid would she then not have run away from the door as well? Ok, I am not claiming to be an expert. But if someone is well enough to crack jokes and waltz in and out of the hospital without supervision and constraints I assume you aren't stupid. Most of the other veterans responded like people who never had seen combat. Veterans who suffer PTSD might not be who they were originally I would like to think that in situations like this their instincts would kick in and put up more of a fight. Perhaps one could argue about PTSD and how people react in situations like these. I for one thought it was stupid and aggravating. 

But what is even more egregious is the fact that both Michael Jai White and Mark Dacascos are nothing but glorified cameos. White has more to do than Dacascos since he plays the supporting cop from the original Die Hard. Or should I say mostly nonsupporting cop since he refuses to take any call or warning regarding the assault seriously. I found myself yelling at the scream since White's character really didn't want to do anything and ultimately barely does something. Mark Dacascos is in this even shorter. I guess he is one of the most elite super assassins. Only the way he is announced and how he appears it's like he is one of the lower stooges. You know he might never have been a super star he is very high up in the B rankings and for him to be treated like this it's just pathetic. Not recognizing the talent you have and not making use of them to their full potential is criminal. Every director and producer who do these things deserve a heavy form of punishment. Why have them even there if their part is not substantial. Other than to draw in that specific audience who will check these titles especially if White and Dacascos are around.

As a Die Hard film it fails too. I didn't buy Flannery as this elite soldier taking out enemies left and right. Well, in one scene he did use Splinter Cell tactics to get by someone but other than that he barely gets hurt or is truly outnumbered. There is zero tension and there are zero thrills. I had no idea main baddie Adrian Rabikov was played by Weston Cage Coppola, the son of Nicolas Cage. While he wasn't bad he definitely was a caricature. Actually more of his goons were acting as if they were in some Die Hard parody. Brittany Underwood is the token bad ass woman who never does anything badass. For a brief second I though it was Shakira, it isn't, but especially with the way her hair was done she looks very much like her. In any case couldn't they have made her done some cruel or cool things so that there is a point to her?

Honestly this film is stupid. It's no fun at all, just aggravating especially since there are no redeeming elements to it. Avoid like the plague!

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