Cody sits back as Bruce Campbell and others save the world.
MY NAME IS BRUCE (2007)
Bruce Campbell, an actor who won his way into the hearts of a legion of horror fans with the (basically) heroic role of Ash in Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, lampooned his own B-movie-heavy career by starring in, producing, and directing this film, in which he plays a down-and-out, dimwitted, alcoholic, highly conceited version of himself.
The screenplay, written by comic book veteran Mark Verheiden, is primarily set in the small town of Gold Lick, Oregon, population 339 and counting... down... That's where a young man named Jeff accidentally unleashes the scythe-wielding spirit of Guan-Di, a Chinese deity and the patron saint of bean curd, who is out to avenge the death of Chinese miners buried in a cave-in a hundred years earlier.
As this supernatural force proceeds to whittle down the population of Gold Lick one-by-one, obsessive Bruce Campbell fan Jeff realizes that the only person who can handle something like this is the hero of movies like Evil Dead, Bubba Ho-tep, Maniac Cop, Terminal Invasion, Alien Apocalypse, etc. He convinces his fellow townspeople of this as well.
But the real Bruce Campbell doesn't quite live up to his screen persona. Going home and swilling Shemp's brand liquor with his dog Sam ‘n' Rob (named after Sam Raimi and his collaborator Rob Tapert) in his downtime from the production of Cave Alien 2, in which he's playing a character named Jack Stryker (also the name of the hero of the Campbell co-written film Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except), Bruce is rude and dismissive of Jeff when he shows up at the door of his sad little house trailer and asks for help. So Jeff knocks him out and kidnaps him.
Jeff takes him back to Gold Lick, where Bruce quickly comes to believe that this is all a show being put on for his benefit, a surprise birthday present from his ineffectual agent. So he goes along with the citizens' monster-hunting plans... And finds himself in completely over his head when he realizes that Guan-Di is real, and really dangerous.
When first faced with the powerful, murderous spirit, Bruce is cowardly and inept, but by the time the third act rolls around, he steps up to redeem himself and become a hero for the first time ever in his real life.
My Name Is Bruce is a really fun movie, a hilarious parody of Campbell's career and a tribute to the fans that have elevated him to heroic status. To a certain segment of the film-watching community, Bruce Campbell is the greatest star working today, and he is seen as heroically as Jeff sees him by many fans. Campbell's film heroism is even referenced in movies he had nothing to do with, like writer/director's 2000 film The Dead Hate the Living, in which a character besieged by zombies ponders aloud, "What would Bruce Campbell do?" A line which is repeated within My Name Is Bruce.
Campbell is highly entertaining as this goofball send-up of himself, and the film is packed with references to both his better movies and his lesser movies. To fill out the supporting cast, Campbell turned to several familiar faces he had worked with before, including Danny Hicks (Evil Dead II, Intruder), Tim Quill (Army of Darkness), and Ted Raimi in three different roles. As Bruce's ex-wife Cheryl, who his agent is sleeping with, Campbell cast Ellen Sandweiss, who co-starred with him in The Evil Dead as a character named Cheryl. Bruce also meets a potential love interest along the way, Jeff's mom Kelly, and newcomer Grace Thorsen did a great job in this role.
Campbell was so committed to bringing this story to life that, as documented in the DVD special features, he even went so far as to build downtown Gold Lick as a backlot on his own property in Oregon. Gold Lick is still believed to exist, a tiny western town on Bruce Campbell's own personal land.
For fans of Bruce Campbell and of his career, My Name Is Bruce is a definite must-see. I was so determined to see it as soon as possible that, during its limited theatrical release in October of 2008, I even took a 90 minute drive to see a screening followed by a Q&A with Campbell. The movie and Bruce Campbell himself were totally worth the 180 mile roundtrip, neither disappointed in the slightest.
The only disappointment comes in the fact that the sequel Campbell announced some years ago, Bruce Campbell vs. Frankenstein, still hasn't been produced. Now that Burn Notice, the TV series on which Campbell co-starred, has reached the end of its seven season run, perhaps Campbell will have more time to finally bring that sequel to life.
For the first several years, and several movies, of his filmmaking career, writer/director Kevin S. Tenney worked exclusively in the horror genre, producing both cult classics (Witchboard, Night of the Demons) and a couple lesser-knowns (Witchtrap, The Cellar). For his fifth feature film, Tenney branched out of horror and made a sci-fi action movie.
Watching Peacemaker, it's hard not to compare it to a sci-fi/action movie that was released just three years earlier, The Hidden. I can't say whether or not Tenney was familiar with The Hidden when he embarked on making Peacemaker, but the basic stories are the same: two aliens tracking and fighting each other through the Los Angeles area, one a police officer (or peacemaker) on their world, the other a criminal. The primary difference is that the aliens in The Hidden had to take over human bodies to move among us unnoticed, while the aliens in Peacemaker are humanoid to begin with. Of course, replace their outer space origin with the future and you also have The Terminator.
The film begins with a meteorite splashing down in the Pacific Ocean just off the Santa Monica coast. As an alien named Townshend and portrayed by Lance Edwards wades out of the sea, another alien already in the city - the great Robert Forster as Yates - immediately senses his presence and springs into action.
The leather-clad Townshend has a rough introduction to our world. The ill-advised attempt to steal a shotgun from a police cruiser kicks off an extended chase sequence that features the incredibly strong alien fighting both cops and members of a drug gang and ends with him getting shot twenty times.
Townshend's corpse is taken to the nearest morgue, where assisant medical examiner Dori Caisson (Hilary Shepard) is shocked to see his wounds heal right before her eyes. Townshend rises from the slab and takes Dori hostage so she can help him make his way through our world while he's still learning and adapting. He's a bit like a buff Starman. Dori even refers to him as Starman at one point.
They haven't even made it out of the parking garage when the gun-toting Yates arrives on the scene and starts blasting away at Townshend.
As it turns out, the inhabitants of the world these aliens are from can survive anything and quickly heal from any sort of wound (they call it rejuvenating) as long as their brain is intact. Like a George A. Romero zombie, these aliens can only be killed by destroying their brain. This ability to rejuvenate allows Townshend and Yates to sustain a whole lot of damage as they chase and fight each other throughout the film.
It also enabled Tenney to have the characters perform some great stunts that an average person would find much more difficult to endure... Although the police officers who get caught in the middle of their antics don't fare much better. Squad cars are smashed up in a variety of ways, a motorcycle cop is thrown from his vehicle and goes sliding down the street.
The moment when a truck goes airborne while speeding over the top of a hill and flies over a character is jaw-dropping.
Townshend claims to be a peacemaker who was chasing down a serial killer, Yates, when their ships were caught in a black hole that dumped them on Earth. When he gets a chance to talk to Dori, Yates make a similar claim. But which one should she trust? She's very wishy-washy about it. Given the choice, I would side with Robert Forster, because he's Robert Forster.
If the aliens' conflict wasn't enough, they also find themselves faced with a formidable local opponent in the form of Robert Davi as Sergeant Frank Ramos, a cop who has long been trying to get Dori to go out with him.
Peacemaker definitely isn't an original concept, but it is an entertaining play on a very familiar one. It's a whole lot of fun to watch, managing to get the viewer invested in the characters and throw twists and turns at them while also devoting as much of its running time as possible to action sequences.
The movie seems to have been fun as far back as the scripting stage; judging by the dialogue, Tenney must've been enjoying himself while writing the screenplay, filling it with jokes and a spattering of laughable tough guy speak. There are some real groaners in there.
Tenney proved to be quite capable at handling action with his first foray into the genre, and Peacemaker is truly an extravaganza of impressive old school stuntwork. That's the area in which the film truly shines, and the top reason to check it out.
Somehow, the existence of Peacemaker managed to elude me for twenty-four years. I wish I had seen this movie when it was first released, because I know I would've loved it when I was a kid. Guys who can't be killed surviving multiple gunshot wounds, explosions, and high falls while relentlessly hunting each other down? I would've thought this was one of the coolest movies ever made. Even now, watching it at 30, I enjoyed it a great deal, but if I had seen it at 7 I would've been totally blown away.
Now I have twenty-four years of lost Peacemaker viewings to make up for.
YOG: MONSTER FROM SPACE (1970)
Directed by original Gojira helmer Ishirô Honda from a screenplay by Ei Ogawa, Yog: Monster from Space (a.k.a. The Space Amoeba) is a film that marks a somber transition for Japan's Toho Studios. It's the first movie the studio made after the death of special effects artist Eiji Tsuburaya, the man who had pioneered the use of suitmation (performers in costumes) for the look of the monsters in Toho's many genre productions. Tsubaraya had been stepping back on the Godzilla productions in the years before his death, often working as a supervisor to Sadamasa Arikawa, who would head up the special effects department while Tsubaraya focused on his own production company. With his supervisor gone, Arikawa continued on as a director of special effects on this film, with fellow Godzilla alumni Teriyoshi Nakano working as his assistant.
The story begins with photojournalist Taro Kudo flying home to Japan from an assignment in Brazil. On the way, Kudo is the only passenger on the plane who witnesses the Helios 7, an unmanned rocket which had blasted off on a three and half year mission to explore Jupiter four months earlier, plummeting into the South Pacific. Kudo tries to convince his editor to allow him to take pictures of the sunken rocket, but his disbelieving boss just wants to send him back to Brazil, so Kudo quits.
Luckily for him, he immediately gets a job offer to join representatives of a development company and take promotional shots of Selgio Island, a small island between Hawaii and the Marianas that has only eighty inhabitants, which the company wants to build up into a resort. Kudo is initially uninterested in such a gig, but then he finds out that a scientist he worked with on a "mysteries of nature" show, a Dr. Mida, will also be on the trip to Selgio Island. Mida believes that Selgio Island is home to prehistoric monsters. Getting pictures of monsters would be good for Kudo's career, and things start looking even better when Kudo realizes Helios 7 crashed into the sea very near Selgio Island.
As it turns out, Helios 7 was disrupted on its journey by a glowing space amoeba, which took control of the rocket and turned it around. Following its landing in the sea, that amoeba starts taking control of creatures around Selgio Island, mutating them into giant sizes, essentially creating the prehistoric monsters Mida thought were already there.
The expedition arrives at the island to find it under siege by these alien-controlled monsters.
Brought to life by suit performers Haruyoshi Nakamura and Haruo Nakajima (the most prolific Godzilla performer in the franchise, having played the King of the Monsters in twelve films from 1954's Gojira to 1972's Godzilla vs. Gigan), the monsters the characters must contend with are Gezora, a giant squid with an extremely low temperature; giant crabs called Ganimes; and giant turtle Kamoebas.
Armed with fire and a stock of ammunition left over from World War II, the island's inhabitants and guests struggle to fight off and destroy the monsters. It's not just their own lives that are at stake; the alien intelligence controlling the creatures is seeking to conquer the entire planet. Unfortunately for the monster fighting endeavors, the space amoeba is also capable of taking over humans...
As far as kaiju movies go, Yog/Space Amoeba is a very low-key, simplistic film. Placing the monsters on a nearly deserted island enabled the filmmakers to keep the budget low, and there's not much to the plot, although what there is may be the perfect amount for it. It provides a set-up for creature feature shenanigans, while also putting more at stake than just the survival of the people on the island. There really doesn't need to be any more to it than that. However, it is odd that the script suggests there were already prehistoric monsters around the island and then says the kaiju were changed into monsters by the space amoeba.
The monsters are the reason to watch, of course. The joy of seeing the suitmation in action as the performers smash through the sets. In that area, the movie certainly delivers, as the monsters are given a good amount of rampaging and terrorizing to do, and receive a satisfying amount of screen time.
Gezora, Ganimes, and Kamoebas aren't the most awe-inspiring kaiju Toho had to offer over the years and Yog isn't one of their best or most memorable offerings, but watching it is a really fun way to spend 85 minutes.
BEST OF THE BEST 4: WITHOUT WARNING (1998)
For the first three movies, I was right on top of the Best of the Best series. When the first movie was airing on cable movie channels, I was there, watching it again and again. When part 2 hit VHS, I rented it. I can clearly remember the first time I ever saw the trailer for part 3, it was a coming attraction at the head of another VHS release. I was anticipating it, and rented it as soon as it came out.
And yet somehow, the existence of a fourth film in the franchise completely slipped by me. I never saw a trailer for it, never noticed it on cable, it was never available to rent at any video store I ever went into. I didn't discover it until years later, when the DVD could be rented through Netflix (the movie is now streaming on their website).
Because of this, I don't have the nostalgic connection to Best of the Best 4: Without Warning that I have for the other entries in the series, although I'm always happy when a franchise I enjoy gets as many installments as possible.
As with part 3, the only character to be brought back for Without Warning was martial arts expert Tommy Lee, who was again played by series producer Phillip Rhee, who also directed the film, as he did the previous one, and co-wrote the screenplay, as he had co-written the story for the first movie.
The story of this one finds Tommy having relocated to Los Angeles, where he now teaches self defense courses. Since we last saw him, he fell in love, got married, had a daughter, and now he's the widowed single father of a six-year-old named Stephanie.
The film begins with a criminal organization primarily made up of Russians and led by a man named Lukasz Slava (Tobin Bell of the Saw franchise) pulling off a caper that... to call it daring would be an understatement. Members of the group blow up Union Station, take over the Traffic Control Center to cause a massive traffic jam, murder the police that were escorting a truck hauling paper used in the creation of money, then lift the truck's trailer up with a helicopter and fly it off to their base.
With a print design CD already in their possession, the criminals will now be able to produce their own legitimate USD.
When a young, computer savvy woman who works for the group realizes what her employers are up to, she makes a tape of incriminating information and runs to get help from the only person she knows she can trust. Her store owner. She can't go to the police because some of them are on Slava's payroll.
It's at her father's store that Tommy gets mixed up in all this. He's there shopping when the young woman comes barging in, with gunmen soon behind. In the scuffle and gunfight that ensues, the father and daughter are both shot, the girl fatally wounded. But before she dies, she manages to pass the tape to Tommy. It's very Jason Lee in Enemy of the State, which came out around this same time.
Slava's heavily armed men are gunning for Tommy before he even realizes he has the tape, shooting up his home and sending him on the run with Stephanie in tow. He tries to get help from his police officer friend Jack Jarvis, but Jarvis turns out to be one of cops working for Slava and tries to kill him. Jarvis ends up dead instead, which puts the LAPD on Tommy's trail as well, with Ernie Hudson's brash Detective Gresko the man most determined to take him down.
Trying to get to the bottom of things before he gets murdered, arrested, or his daughter gets hurt, Tommy has to do some investigating, a whole lot of fighting, and endure more than one double cross.
The Best of the Best movies got progressively deeper into action movie territory with each sequel that followed the sports-oriented original, and part 4 keeps up the pattern, building to a sequence that the production's effects budget couldn't quite pull off convincingly, a highway chase featuring motorcycles, cars, a tanker truck, a helicopter, and ridiculous explosive finale.
I find Best of the Best 4: Without Warning to be by far the least entertaining entry in the series, and I don't believe that's just the lack of nostalgia talking. It's simply not a very good movie. The story isn't very interesting, and the action sequences aren't engaging. With its cheap production value and cheeseball qualities, it's a movie that would only appeal to those viewers who enjoyed renting the low budget, direct-to-video B-grade action movies that filled video store shelves in the '90s, since that's what it is.
I felt that the original Best of the Best could hold its own among the top movies in the sports drama genre. Part 4, despite the franchise title, has a place among the worst of the worst action movies, although when it comes to '90s DTV action offerings they certainly did get worse than this.
The movie's greatest sin? Stuntman/Jason Voorhees performer Kane Hodder made a cameo in each of the previous films, but he's nowhere to be seen in this one. How did Rhee think he could make a proper Best of the Best without Kane Hodder?
I missed the release of Best of the Best 4, but I wasn't missing much. And yet, I still appreciate its existence because... it's part of a series I like, and it brought Tommy Lee back to the screen one more time.
RELENTLESS IV: ASHES TO ASHES (1994)
Screenwriter Mark Sevi was the king of direct-to-video sequels in the first half of the '90s. His first eight writing credits were for low budget sequels that came out from 1992 through 1995. His first produced screenplay was for Dead On: Relentless II. Two years later, he returned to the Relentless franchise to pen the script for Relentless IV: Ashes to Ashes.
At the helm of Relentless IV was Oley Sassone, who had brought another Sevi script to the screen with Fast Getaway II, which was released in the same year, 1994. One of the leads in the Fast Getaway duology was character actor Leo Rossi, who also starred in the Relentless series as New York native LAPD detective Sam Dietz. It must have been quite cozy for the director, star, and writer to make two movies together back-to-back.
Ashes to Ashes finds Dietz in the midst of dealing with a tumultuous situation in his personal life, as always. Throughout the series, problems tended to arise between him and his wife Carol. They separated between the first and second movies, got divorced between II and III, and by the time IV begins Carol has passed away, leaving Dietz to struggle at being a single father to their teenage son Cory, who has just entered his rebellious stage, perhaps partially due to the traumatic loss of his mother.
Cory is played in this film by Christopher Pettiet, and it's rough to watch his scenes, some of which deal heavily with the idea of death and losing loved ones, with the knowledge in mind that Pettiet himself would pass away within six years of the movie's release. Adding to the awkward edge of his scenes is the fact that Cory is dating a girl played by Lisa Robin Kelly, best known for playing Laurie Forman on That '70s Show, and who herself passed away at a much-too-young age in 2013. Tragically, the causes of death for both Pettiet and Kelly were drug overdoses.
The story of the film follows Dietz as he investigates, with the help of his tough-talking new partner Jessica Parreti, the case of yet another serial killer that has begun murdering Los Angeles citizens. This particular repeater targets young women, and only wants to murder them specifically - if they're with someone else when he strikes, he will incapacitate the other person with a stun gun but leave them alive while he kills the person he's there for. The killer then performs religious rituals. He gives them their last rites, anoints them with oil, baptizes them. Between murders, he flagellates himself in front of religious icons.
The investigation leads Dietz to psychiatrist Doctor Sara Lee Jaffee, played by Famke Janssen one year before she got her big breakthrough role in the James Bond film GoldenEye. Jaffee is a specialist in death and rituals, the victims are patients of hers, and the killer seems to be fascinated with her... In his own way, Dietz himself is fascinated with her, pursuing a romantic relationship with her while at the same time trying to get her help in solving the case.
While Sevi crafted the most intriguing story of the series with Relentless II, the story of IV I find to be the complete opposite - it's still a decent crime procedural, but by far the least interesting of the four movies.
Part of my issue with it is that the concept of this case just doesn't appeal to me, but what really drags Ashes to Ashes down to evoking such a blasé response is its mediocre execution. The look and tone of the film is just bland. Oley Sassone doesn't have much in the way of high quality work on his directing filmography, he is the guy who directed the never-officially-released 1994 adaptation of Fantastic Four ('94 was a really busy year for him), and there's nothing impressive about how Relentless IV turned out.
It's a shame this installment of the series turned out to be so dull, because with the character of Sam Dietz, Leo Rossi still in the role, and Famke Janssen co-starring, it had elements in place that could have made for a much better movie. Instead, this marked the end of the franchise, and it goes out not with a bang or a whimper, but a yawn.