Awesome action, childhood memories, a New Zealand haunting, and subterranean horror.
ACTION JACKSON (1988)
More awesomeness came out of the production of the 1987 sci-fi action movie Predator than many may realize. While on the set of that film, co-star Carl Weathers and producer Joel Silver were discussing their mutual appreciation for the blaxploitation films of the 1970s, and from that conversation was born the idea for this cult classic action film, which Robert Reneau was hired to write.
Weathers stars as Detroit police officer Jericho "Action" Jackson, a man who is built up to legendary status by his fellow officers. They say he's vicious and violent, some kind of science experiment or the offspring of Bigfoot, and so tough that he could walk on the moon with a spacesuit. Jackson is actually just a regular guy. He's likeable, noble, and has a sense of humor. But he has gotten in trouble in the past for getting a bit too rough with a person he refers to as a "sexual psychopath". That's not something a lot of people would frown upon, but the claims of police bruality were still enough to get Jackson demoted from Lieutenant to Sergeant and have his gun permit revoked, and the issue contributed to the end of his marriage.
The sexual predator was the son of wealthy automobile company owner Peter Dellaplane (Coach's Craig T. Nelson), and to say that Jackson holds a grudge against Dellaplane would be an understatement. Still, personal bias isn't even required for Jackson to start suspecting that Dellaplane is up to some shady business. That suspicion is brought about by the fact that people connected to Dellaplane through the Auto Workers Alliance have been getting murdered in brutal, flashy, overkill ways.
Those murders are committed by a team of assassins called The Invisible Men, and while these guys aren't much to look at when you get a good glimpse of them, when they're at work they are extremely impressive. These black-clad killers are almost like something out of a horror movie, tending to do their work calmly, coolly, and silently, moving in shadows, seemingly able to appear and disappear at will. They kill people with arrows, blades, and guns. Very high powered guns. One of the first kills in the movie sees a man getting shot with a projectile that explodes upon contact with him, turning him into a flailing fireball as he's blown backwards through the window of a skyscraper office building and falls several stories through the night sky before smashing through the skylight of an eatery. Like I said, overkill.
The Invisible Man who gets the most focus is the broadly grinning Gamble (Bob Minor), who goes on some solo missions to fire some extra bullets and cause bonus explosions.
For what could have been a simple murder mystery, this is packed with explosions and general mayhem. If a movie has Action in its title, its action better be good, and the action here is pretty spectacular thanks to director Craig R. Baxley, a former stuntman/stunt coordinator (he coordinated the stunts for Predator, among 90+ other credits) making his feature directorial debut.
An excellent cast was hired to surround Weathers with. Start off with Nelson, who you might not expect to be a great villain but who actually delivers a chilling performance and makes Dellaplane a truly detestable human being. Plus he displays some martial arts moves in here, kicking the ass of an instructor played by James Lew. You also have Weathers' Predator co-star Bill Duke as his disapproving Captain; Back to the Future's Thomas F. Wilson in a fun, small role as a cop; Die Hard's De'voreaux White as a valet; Al Leong and Nicholas Worth as Dellaplane's bodyguards; Robert Davi as an old friend of Jackson's; Sharon Stone as Dellaplane's beautiful, young trophy wife; Vanity as his beautiful, young, heroin-addicted lounge singer mistress Sydney Ash; Miguel A. Núñez Jr. and Branscombe Richmond as random thugs; and Sonny Landham showing up as a knife-wielding fellow called Mr. Quick. This has to rank up there as one of the best casts ever, and that's not even a full list of familiar faces and standout actors.
During the course of his investigation, Jackson needs Sydney's help in figuring out why everyone around Dellaplane is dying and to bring the wealthy Detroit Businessman's League "Man of the Year" honor recipient to justice. Help she gives after Dellaplane has her apartment bombed.
Action Jackson is a really cool movie that I've been a fan of since I was probably too young to be watching it, catching showings of it on cable during movie nights with my father. I'm assuming I would have been around five years old at the time, and it definitely had an impact on me.
I don't remember doing this, but my paternal grandmother would sometimes reminisce about a day in 1989 or so when I was visiting her and my step-grandfather, and while playing I made an inappropriate reference to something Action Jackson had put in my head. There's a sequence in this movie where Jackson is seeking answers from a certain individual, and this search takes him to a pool hall where that individual's testicles have been preserved in jar in a cabinet. After this discovery, the bartender and some of the pool hall regulars display an eagerness to add Jackson's testicles to their collection.
So in front of my parents and grandparents, little Cody said something about balls getting cut off with a dull knife. When asked where I got a line like that from, I do remember having trouble pronouncing the title when I said, "Action Jackson."
I was a fan then, and nearly thirty years later I remain a fan of the awesome Action Jackson.
The feature debut of writer/director Gerard Johnstone, Housebound is billed as being a horror/comedy, but that may be playing up the comedic aspect a bit too much. There are laughs and absurd sights, but if you're expecting the film to live up to the "comedy" part of its description you might be disappointed or relieved, depending on how much comedy you like mixed in with your thrills.
Morgana O'Reilly carries the film with a great performance as Kylie Bucknell, a troubled young girl who is arrested after her attempt to rob an ATM goes disastrously wrong. Her punishment: eight months of home confinement with her mom and stepfather in the house she grew up in. She is fitted with an ankle bracelet that will alert security officer Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) if she strays too far from the house or tries to tamper with the bracelet.
Kylie settles into a routine of being a total pain to her mom Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), a delightful and chatty woman who has long believed her home to be haunted. Kylie used to believe it, too. There were times as a child when she was too terrified by the spirit in the house to sleep.
The more time Kylie spends back in the house, the more she begins to regain that old feeling that the place is indeed haunted. When Amos reveals that he has a strong interest in the paranormal, the two team up to get to the bottom of what's happening in that house, unearthing dark secrets and a long-buried murder mystery.
Housebound is a lively film, propelled by fun dialogue exchanges and great performances from its leads. It's a bit long at 109 minutes, but the characters and events keep you interested enough that you don't often feel the longer running time.
This was my first time seeing New Zealand-based actress Morgana O'Reilly in anything, and I'm hoping she'll continue to get work in films that gain international recognition, because I really thought she was awesome here.
Other aspects of the film that have to be commended are the stylish cinematography by Simon Riera and the production design by Jane Bucknell... There's a reason why Kylie shares a last name with one of them, as they made this film look incredible. The look of the film alone is enough to recommend it, then it helps that it's very entertaining beyond that.
It was a given that I would be watching Housebound at some point, I had heard such good things about it from the horror community, but I finally got around to it because it was a Final Girl SHOCKtober pick.
2009. It had been five years since the release of Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, which means that by that point I had spent five years hoping to hear news on the making of a Tremors 5. There were some rumblings, a script had been written, and in 2008 Universal had shown interest in putting it into production... But then they didn't. As it turns out, I was only halfway through the wait for a fifth Tremors film in 2009, as Tremors 5: Bloodlines didn't end up being released until 2015.
Hungry for more Tremors, I jumped at the chance to watch a pseudo-Tremors movie when it was announced that Syfy would be premiering Sand Serpents, a film that sees American Special Forces soldiers taking on giant, worm-like subterranean creatures in the desert of Afghanistan. It wouldn't be a proper Tremors fix, but it would pass the time while I hoped and waited to see the Tremors franchise's version of giant, worm-like subterranean creatures return to the screen.
The creatures of Sand Serpents move through the ground very much like Tremors' Graboids and they hunt by sound like the Graboids do, but these things just aren't as interesting as the Graboids are. The design isn't as interesting, they really do just look like huge worms, and huge is almost an understatement. These things are a hundred feet long and when they burst out of the ground, the majority of their body rises up before they strike.
Sand Serpents also isn't as fun as you can typically expect a Tremors entry to be. It doesn't have the sense of humor or adventure film tone, it's very serious for the most part because the war movie element really drags it down. You can have a silly creature feature or you can have a modern war movie that deals with real life horror, but the two things really shouldn't be mixed.
Although this film was almost undoubtedly inspired by Tremors, it's really not fair to compare it to that series every step of the way. At the end of the day, it is its own movie and should be judged as such. Judged on its own merits, it is a decent flick, just one that was assembled with some questionable decisions.
The following review originally appeared on ArrowintheHead.com
VIGILANTE DIARIES (2016)
Those first two episodes are still available for viewing online, and if you've already watched them and are concerned that they might have been integrated into the movie, fear not. Footage from the episodes is included, but it's for a quick recap and then the film serves as a follow-up to their storyline. This doesn't contain those twenty minutes of Vigilante that you've seen before. For viewers who haven't watched those episodes, I would advise checking them out to help you decide if Vigilante Diaries is something you want to delve into, because it's good to have the information they provide before watching the movie.
Even when you know what happened in those episodes, watching the feature can be a dizzying experience. There's a scene in 2005, and then you're in modern day, and then there's a flashback to 2007, back to modern day, back to '07, jump ahead a month, etc. There are multiple stories going on at once - a traitorous military commander seeking uranium, Armenian mobsters seeking revenge, rescue missions, a mysterious Michael Madsen pulling strings. Vigilante Diaries is a movie that can leave you behind really quickly. Repeat viewings would probably be beneficial, if you feel so inclined.
Because things are so scattered, and because the movie kills its own momentum at every turn by jumping around so much, I was never really invested in what was happening. Finding the storytelling to be extremely off-putting, I pretty much checked out while just letting the film's humor, action, and violence wash over me.
Those are areas where Vigilante Diaries truly shines, as director Christian Sesma can shoot the hell out of an action scene, whether it's a shootout (of which there are several), a bone-crunching physical altercation (we get a bunch of those as well), or a vehicular chase. He assembled a great cast to portray a roster of badass characters, including his co-writer Paul Sloan as the "self-made superhero" vigilante of the title, who really doesn't get enough development in his own movie. There's the aforementioned Madsen, as well as Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Michael Jai White, and Jacqueline Lord. Most of the characters are fun to watch and have a nice banter with each other that brings smiles and laughs, and Jason Mewes is also on hand for that purpose, reprising the role of the documentary filmmaker he played in the web series episodes.
The action would have been even better if I cared about the characters, but the structure of the script made it impossible for me to really connect with anyone. While it wasn't evoking an emotional response, I could still appreciate the choreography, the way things were shot, and the editing.
There are definitely promising elements within Vigilante Diaries, but it also feels like there was squandered potential. It certainly seems like they were trying to cram several episodes worth of material into a feature running time, and if they had pared things down a bit, made it more focused and streamlined, it could have been a much more satisfying experience.
If you want to see some good action, Vigilante Diaries provides that. The storytelling isn't so good.