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Saturday, 18 August 2018

Mini Retro Review: Hollywood Vice Squad (1986) #badmovies

Hollywood Vice Squad
Black Comedy Crime

A mother goes to Hollywood in search of her runaway teenaged druggie daughter, only to discover she is a hooker involved in the porn industry and with the help of police, tries to find her. I tuned in for a young 19-year-old pre-star Robin Wright (above) - way before The Princess Bride, Toys, Forrest Gump, Wonder Woman - making her screen debut. The film stars Carrie Fisher, Ronny Cox (Robocop, Beverly Hills Cop) and Frank Gorshin who played the Riddler in the 1960s Batman TV series with Adam West & Burt Ward as a dirty old man ogling at Robin. The main problem I had with this film is that it doesn't work as a comedy and that it would have been better as a serious crime thriller. The story is unconvincing, trifling and not very easy to follow, the action is pithy, there are lull scenes & the characters are one dimensional. Watching this, it seems as though the cast or anyone didn't know what they were letting themselves in for. Though it is dubbed a comedy, the tonal dissonance switches from comical during the opening first 15 mins to being serious. Despite the odd softcore nudity and little action, this is utterly bland.

Is It Worth Watching?

Only for Robin Wright


Friday, 17 August 2018

Retro Review: Tiger Cage II (1990) #Hongkongcinema

Tiger Cage II aka Sai Hak Chin
Cast: Donnie Yen, Rosamund Kwan, Robin Shou, David Ng, Michael Woods, John Salvitti, Cynthia Khan, Carol Cheung
Genre: Martial Arts Action
Hong Kong Box Office Gross: over $6.3 million

'Hong Kong Actioner That Has Its Claws Out. Kind of'

I very much enjoyed 1988's Tiger Cage, a relatively little-known '80s Hong Kong action crime movie that operates as a standard drama as well.

Plot-wise, it is rather similar to the first movie with the corrupt cop versus the good guy and his accomplice/s. The only difference being here that Tiger Cage II has that uneven tone of drama and action meshing with humour, which mars this film, but is also rather typical of Hong Kong action movies of the 1980s and early 1990s with shades of The Lucky Stars series, Police Story with Jackie Chan and even Yes Madam!.

Dragon (Yen) is a former cop, who is accused of a robbery that he didn't commit and both he and a lawyer, Mandy, who becomes embroiled in the wrongdoing, go on the run. It also turns out that a shady businessman (Shou) is involved in a money-laundering scheme, alongside two beefy accomplices who exist to take out Dragon. 

I didn't like how this film is much more light-hearted than the first movie, which was gritty and serious and that galvanised the movie so much. What should have been a hard-edged action thriller undeservedly and unnecessarily descends into a comical farce with fast-paced action sequences. Although after being unceremoniously killed in the first Tiger Cage, Yen reappears again, this time as a character under a different name and as the main star, and he delivers quite a performance. Alongside a female sidekick in Kwan and a lighter type of action film, Tiger Cage II functions and plays out like a conventional Police Story-like Jackie Chan vehicle. 

It's nowhere as great as the first film and it was slightly disappointing that Yuen Woo Ping opted for a lighter tone, after the broody, bullish and seriousness of the original Tiger Cage, which made it fitting. It was brutal, no-nonsense and whilst the goofy humour in Tiger Cage II makes it a tad more casual, it also takes away from that sharpness and spark that Tiger Cage originally emitted. Some of the unintentional comedy was okay, but it does feel that this didn't really need it. Also, the love triangle thing just wasn't really necessary and thus, it eats up so much time. 

The relentless and at times over-the-top action, however, is terrific and amazing to watch at times and this slightly makes up for the not so strong narrative. The flying kicks, punches, hand-to-hand and sword to sword combat and some really good stunts, one of them involving a bus that is Police Story-like, with Donnie Yen flinging himself from one bus to another and taking on a group of bad guys. 

Strangely enough, also, the score here sounds awfully similar to the one in Tango and Cash with Sly Stallone and Kurt Russell. 

If you have seen the first movie, then you might be disappointed with this offering; having said that, if you are an avid Donnie Yen fan, you will be pleased to know that, rather unlike the first movie where he is killed off, he is the central figure and has a bigger role to play; plus it is great when he beats the villains up and he unleashes his martial arts skills. In that respect, therefore, Tiger Cage II will delight fans and admirers of Yen's. 

Tiger Cage II falls more in line with Yen's In The Line of Duty 4 as opposed to Tiger Cage - only take away Cynthia Khan and her amazing martial arts skills and replace it with Rosalind Kwan and of her character acting sheepishly and being dim. Even though there are no big surprises and the plot twists aren't that shocking, it still works, thanks to the performances and Donnie Yen's charisma, the stunts and action sequences. & it's hugely entertaining. Although I was a little underwhelmed that Cynthia Khan was underutilised and didn't feature in it as much as I'd anticipated. She does, however, gets to chase down a mysterious motorbike killer in her car & shoot him dead. Robin Shou (Liu Kang of Mortal Kombat) plays the arrogant slimeball bad guy and one some may find irritating. 

Final Verdict

It's also silly and the silly and broad humour would have complimented Jackie Chan far more so than with Donnie Yen, who is better and far more comfortable at playing it straight and serious. And regardless, for all of its silliness, the second instalment of Tiger Cage is still fun, accessible and a really good entertaining and action-packed watch for martial arts and action martial arts movie fanatics. 


Thursday, 16 August 2018

Mini Retro Review: Open Fire (1994) #badmovies

Open Fire

Yet another Die Hard with formulaic action sequences and fight scenes that come across as routine, tired and seen all too many times before. Although given this is a low budget film, there wasn't much Kurt Anderson could do. The plot is the same as in Die Hard, only with such unmemorable protagonist and antagonist characters that include actors Patrick Kilpatrick (Best of the Best 2 & Death Warrant) & Brenda Swanson (Secret Games 3). The story moves at a snail's pace, which in turn, drained whatever energy was left in the movie. Despite uttering a few lines, Jeff Wincott still lacks charisma, as well as emoting less and that he doesn't have more going for him but his martial arts skills, though they are no more than decent at best. Otherwise, he's too bland for my tastes. The talky scenes felt flat with unengaging dialogue and the villains and cop characters remain wooden throughout. If Open Fire had a B-movie rival, it would be Deadly Outbreak starring Jeff Speakman - the only difference being this is inferior and has far less than impressive action sequences by comparison.

Is It Worth Watching?

Not really unless you are a fan of Jeff Speakman


Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Retro Review: Roll Bounce (2005)

Roll Bounce
Cast: Shad ''Bow Wow'' Smith, Meagan Good, Chi McBride, Mike Epps, Wesley Jonathan, Jurnee Smollett, Marcus T. Paulk, Brandon T. Jackson
Genre: Comedy Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $17 million

Plot: A teenager and his group of friends face new challenges when their neighbourhood rollerskating rink closes, forcing them to visit a different rink

'Seventies Roller Skating Flick Which Needed More Bounce'

Roll Bounce is a nice, safe and predictable underdogs triumphing over the odds - type of movie that is pretty conventional, yet also easy-going, pleasant and feel-good. Granted, the story doesn't hook you in immediately and is not engaging enough to invest in the film and its main characters. 

It's 1978: in Chicago, Illinois, a teenager by the name of Xavier or ''X'' as he is known by his friends hangs out at a local roller rink. But Xavier's personal life is going through numerous phases: he has a crush on a girl, Naomi, much to the chagrin of his female friend, Tori, his mother passed away with Xavier's father, Curtis raising him and his younger sister, whilst dealing with Tori's mother, Vivian, who has a thing for Curtis. As well as all of this, Xavier and his crew are challenged by undisputed skating champion, Sweetness and his team in a major roller disco competition. 

Written by Norman Vance Jr (Beautyshop, which I thought wasn't too bad), the title of the film is derived from the 1979 song, ''Bounce, Rock, Skate & Roll'', yet the main problem is the narrative isn't compelling, nor are its subplots, of which some of them could have been cut down. The tone, however, is good; infectious and with that retro '70s vibe that it evokes and the performances are very good for the most part. But numerous times, I lost concentration as the story lost its way towards the end. Being a two-hour movie, there just wasn't that many entertaining and exciting scenes and moments. 

Some characters get a look-in and some attention, but character development is moot (you don't get to see them and their efforts in developing their skating abilities) and all the attention is placed on the narrative, which lacked that extra something. Had it not been for the roller skating scenes -which makes Roll Bounce come to life -, this would've fallen flat on its arse. Although regarding that aspect, I found that to be the most enjoyable aspect -, and still, it felt like there wasn't enough of them. The quality of the skating scenes are good and filmed well, but quantity-wise, I felt there needed to have been more; that and they make Roll Bounce a tad more enjoyable.  Even if it doesn't go to greater lengths to make roller skating one of the coolest, baddest and jaw-dropping things on earth, which in other cases, it is and should have been.

As with the performances, Shad ''Bow Wow'' Smith is good and he has a natural charm and ability as he convinces in his role. It just seems like with himself and the remaining performances they all manage to strike a balance. Yet I just wished it was tad exciting and it was even funkier. The remaining performances were good also and there wasn't really a bad one to speak of. Well, perhaps for Mike Epps and Charlie Murphy's, of whom were not effective.

It's earnest with plenty of heart and its message is wholesome, but there needed to have been more of that spark, be it more roller dancing and skating scenes and even better ones also, wittier banter and more drama to drive Roll Bounce forward. Although the soundtrack is groovy with wall-to-wall tracks such as Bill Withers' Lovely Day, Chic's Le Freak and Boogie Oogie Oogie by Brooke Valentine, Fabolous and Yo-Yo. 

Director Malcolm D. Lee does well in embracing and conveying that 1970s vibe as it pays homage to its roots, just as he did in Undercover Brother, and yet, it's easy to get lost in Roll Bounce's haze, as the plotlines wear thin and the story staggers its way towards the dance-off finale. 

Final Verdict:

Roll Bounce is nice and pleasant and simple in its execution and it's definitely one I will be rewatching, and yet it also feels as though it needed to go even further in the story, as well as perhaps been little edgier in places too. The movie didn't set the box office alight and watching this, I can understand why now. 

It is an ambitious attempt and a nice concept; if only it tried a little harder with a little less roll and more "oomph".  


Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Retro Review: Message In A Bottle (1999)

Message In A Bottle
Cast: Kevin Costner, Robin Wright, Paul Newman, Robbie Coltrane, Jesse James
Genre: Romantic Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $118 million 

Plot: A woman discovers a tragic love letter in a bottle on a beach, and is determined to track down its author

'Messazzzzz...... Oh Sorry What Was That Again?'

Contrary to some, the adaptation of The Notebook was not the first Nicholas Sparks novel to be given the Hollywood movie treatment: that honour actually goes to 1999's Message In A Bottle. Produced by and starring Kevin Costner with Robin Wright, it was another one of those earlier romantic novels turned movies that are as unmistakably 1990s as it is resolutely 1990s. I know I am not the type for these films, and still, I expected something that would make it special and memorable for years to come. Unfortunately, however, Message In A Bottle remains as tepid and frankly tedious as I'd doubted it would be and the longer it went on, the more it became insufferable.  

Chicago Tribune researcher Teresa Osbourne drops off her son to her ex-husband who is also his father, afterwards she heads off to Cape Cod in search of a letter, written by a man to a woman that is inside a bottle that is washed up ashore. When Teresa gets her hands on this bottle, she manages to track down and get hold of this guy named Garrett. There are few home truths that are unearthed, but they are nothing that grand to truly brag about or to be enthusiastic for.  It starts off well, but as it wears on, the duller it eventually became. 

I really hate to say this, but Kevin Costner is the biggest issue as to why this movie just didn't work out: he is just not cut out for these types of films and he lacks the emotional resonance an actor like himself possesses to pass off as the male lead. Garrett is a bore, just nothing about him stands out, but that is mainly to do with Costner, who as likeable as he appears onscreen, has little charisma other than to be brooding. Unlike Robin Wright, he looks out of place for me and didn't seem to connect with the character he was portraying. Robin herself looks terrific as Theresa, but despite her efforts, she has done far better elsewhere and had she been given stronger material, this would have further elevated her performance. It's nice to see her in a film like this, but the script didn't do her any favours, nor stretch her beyond her talents. Robin Wright deserved better.

Being a romantic drama, Mandoki and the book itself are unwilling to bring out more of the friction and tension it needed and Theresa and Garret are so bland and lacking in characterisation that regardless of Robin Wright and Kevin Costner, they just couldn't do enough to make it believable. Their pairing also falls short as their romance lacks emotional resonance and I just didn't sense that on-screen chemistry between them; because of that, I never bought into them as their characters falling for each other. 

The filmmakers and writer/s, along with Costner himself, make no effort at establishing what literally draws Garret and Theresa together, whatsoever. 

It's a shame this: I really wanted to enjoy it and find some charm and entertainment out of Message In A Bottle, but the story is just so stagnant, lacking in substance and the pacing is just slow and is overkill. I mean, it's understandable for a romantic drama, just to build up the relationships of the main characters; but even the pitifully penned characters, of whom aren't very interesting and the script, doesn't lend themselves that well to the movie. With romantic comedies and dramas, they need an interesting set of characters consisting of the love interest and the person who is in love with the love interest and to help bring that chemistry to life. Thing is 90% of these movies are so bad and terrible, they are more fluff and cringe than they are great movies I could immerse myself into fully. Taking away the fact this is based on a book, as a romantic drama, Message In A Bottle is so poorly conceived.
What little tension it provides, there is little urgency and alas, the film goes about it in a typical romantic drama sense, with little to set itself apart. The approach in terms of production and filmmaking reeks of Lifetime channel and TV movie fare that is trite as it is and despite one or two nice scenes, this love story just never felt compelling.  

I am completely unfamiliar with the book Message In A Bottle is based on as I have not read it and yet I've read there were a few changes made for this film. 

Just because one is the producer of the movie, doesn't always mean they should call all of the shots: Costner could've and probably should've cast another actor to play Garrett instead of himself, and that he might have given his character further depth that Costner couldn't produce.

The twist towards the end was unexpected but given as I wasn't impressed by his performance and his character, I honestly didn't give a toss. 

Final Verdict:

Passionless and emotionally hollow on the inside, yet on the outside, it looks attractive, somewhat accompanied by golden sunsets with not one major standout performance to really speak of, Message In A Bottle is another fruitless romantic drama that whilst they are supposed to be more grounded in reality, it comes across as superficial. & it is one of the worst types of romantic dramas to ever surface. 

Along with the mismatched Kevin Costner and less so Robin Wright and the remaining wasted supporting cast, Message In A Bottle, along with The Postman and Waterworld, this is another bomb from Costner's latter part of his career, which eventually sank without a trace. 

Dreary, boring and unengaging, this film, and most of the cast, but for Robin Wright and Paul Newman, all deserve to be cast out to sea. 


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