Friday, July 19, 2019

Worth Mentioning - Some Would Call It Impossible

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Action heroines, holiday terror, and body horror.


C.I.A. Code Name: Alexa stars Kathleen Kinmont as the Alexa of the title, introduced as a member of a group of gun-wielding, ski mask-wearing villains who bust into a church during a funeral so they can steal the body of the deceased - an associate who was killed while stealing a microchip from a government building. A microchip that is now hidden in his body. I don't know how the coroner missed that. The body theft goes terribly wrong, resulting in a lot of casualties and property damage, and while this is happening Alexa proves to be a bad girl with a heart of gold, since she does not approve of her cohorts killing people.

After being apprehended by Detective Nick Murphy (OJ Simpson, who would be apprehended himself a few years later), Alexa ends up in the custody of the C.I.A., with agent Mark Graver (Kinmont's then-husband Lorenzo Lamas) intending to persuade her to help him bring down her extremely wealthy criminal kingpin boss Victor Mahler (Alex Cord). A guy who hosts fights to the death out in the yard beside his mansion, because that's the sort of movie this is. Now Mahler is looking to move on up into the business of global terrorism, and he needs the microchip to do so.

It doesn't take long for Alexa and Graver to develop romantic feelings for each other, even though part of the C.I.A.'s approach to persuading her to help them involves keeping her young daughter locked up in a room in a government facility. Don't worry, Graver is an agent with a heart of gold who doesn't agree with the methods put to use by his higher-up Chief Robin (Pamela Dixon). Soon enough Alexa and Graver are lovers working together to wage a mini war against Mahler and his goons - including Michael Bailey Smith of The Hills Have Eyes 2006 - while the curious Detective Murphy inserts himself into the middle of the situation.

Director Joseph Merhi brought an oddly hazy, dream-like look to this film, putting bright lights and blue gels in smoky sets. The look of the movie is kind of off-putting to me, but it certainly makes Code Name: Alexa feel unique. Merhi was tasked with making an action movie where a substantial chunk of it takes place within the confines of a facility, so I guess he wanted to try to liven it up visually.

Plenty of action takes place outside of that facility, though. The script by Ken Lamplugh and John Weidner drops us right into action at the start, with Graver taking it upon himself to end a hostage situation being carried out by a villain who taunts police with over-the-top, theatrical laughter. The action rarely lets up during the first 25 minutes, during which we have two separate action sequences involving shootouts, explosions, and a chase, followed up by a kickboxing death match. The movie never reaches those heights again, the climax is comparatively low-key, but that opening stretch is pretty impressive.

This was probably a forgettable low budget action flick to most people who crossed paths with it on cable in the '90s, but I was fascinated with this movie twenty-five years ago... and that fascination was entirely due to Kinmont. I was a fan of hers from Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Bride of Re-Animator, and I was excited to see her in a movie packed with martial arts and gunfire. It holds up as a decent movie; nothing special in general, but it was special to me when I was an adolescent.


Chad McQueen starred in the 1990 action movie Martial Law as Sean Thompson, the character who has the nickname "Martial Law" because he's a police officer who knows martial arts. Most people who saw that movie probably watched it because Cynthia Rothrock played Sean's girlfriend and fellow police officer Billie Blake, though, and the fact that Rothrock was the real draw is proven by the sequel, in which she reprises the role of Billie Blake but McQueen is replaced in the role of Sean Thompson by Jeff Wincott.

Things change for Sean at work in this movie, he makes detective and gets transferred to a new precinct where he's meant to start a martial arts program and reports to legendary character actor Billy Drago as Captain Krantz, but he has a similar motivation in the story. In the first movie, Sean has to avenge the death of his younger brother after he gets mixed up with criminals, and this one he's out to avenge the death of a police officer friend after his pal gets mixed up with the wrong criminals.

The bad guys here operate out of a nightclub and, as the film's subtitle implies, our heroes need to go undercover to figure out what sort of illegal activities they're up to. Here's where Billie steps up and takes the spotlight. She occasionally fills in for her pops as a bartender, so she has the drink serving skills required to go undercover as a bartender at the villains' nightclub.

Martial Law director Steve Cohen remained involved with the sequel as producer, but handed the helm over to Kurt Anderson, who was working from a script crafted by Jiles Fitzgerald and the first movie's writer Richard Brandes, based on a story by executive producer Pierre David. Like the first movie, Martial Law II is quite dull in its storytelling scenes, but does feel livelier overall, even if it has to drop in things like random muggings and creepy bar patrons as excuses for fight scenes. Those fights are why we're watching, and Rothrock and Wincott are both great at performing the choreography.

The sequel also follows the example of its predecessor by having one of the most easily predictable twists of all time. In the first one I think we were supposed to be shocked when Sean's brother dies, and in this one we discover that one of Sean's associates is crooked... But if you're familiar with the actor, you're going to be suspicious of him from the moment he appears on screen. At least he has a complicated relationship with the bad guys he's working with.

Martial Law II: Undercover didn't blow me away, but neither did the first movie. This was a fine sequel even with the casting shake-up.


The second entry in Blumhouse / Hulu's Into the Dark series of twelve movies - released on a monthly basis, each one having something to do with a holiday or notable date in its month of release - reached the Hulu streaming service last November and takes place around the Thanksgiving holiday.

Directed by Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine 3D, Drive Angry), Flesh & Blood centers on a teenage girl named Kimberly Tooms (Diana Silvers), who has spent most of the last year shut away in her home, agoraphobic and unable to bring herself to step off the front porch. Kimberly's life fell apart soon after the previous Thanksgiving when her mom Rose (Meredith Salenger) was murdered by someone who was never caught. As another Thanksgiving approaches, Kimberly's life is about to get even worse, and not because she has been put on a new medication that makes her feel numb, or because her therapist (Tembi Locke) is concerned that she could become aggressive. Things get worse when Kimberly starts to suspect that her father Henry (Dermot Mulroney) is a serial killer, possibly the person who murdered her mother.

Before Thanksgiving arrives, Kimberly's birthday is also in November, and her father gives her a necklace as a present. Soon after, Kimberly sees a news report about the latest girl to go missing in the area - and realizes that the missing girl had the exact same necklace Henry has just given to her. If the screenplay by Louis Ackerman was structured differently, giving away the fact that Kimberly starts to suspect that her dad is a killer could be a big time spoiler, but as it is she begins to have this suspicion less than a quarter into the 93 minute running time. She has confronted Henry about this suspicion less than halfway into it.

Things move along rather quickly in Flesh & Blood, and there aren't a lot of surprises along the way. There are really only two ways the story could go - either Henry is a serial killer, or Kimberly's mental state has deteriorated to a point where she's going to have to be committed. But even though you'll have the two most likely outcomes in mind pretty much from the start, the movie still manages to be interesting and entertaining. It doesn't have twists and turns, but it's a ticking time bomb sort of movie - you know something bad is going to happen, but it isn't clear when or how.

I was invested in seeing how it would all play out, and really enjoyed watching Dermot Mulroney play a character like this. Is Henry a hard-working man dealing with the tragic loss of his wife and a daughter who needs more help than he can provide, or is he a maniac who's going to end up trying to kill his own daughter before the end credits roll?

I had a good time finding out the answer.


Presented as one 90 minute feature film, writer/director Mick Garris's Quicksilver Highway was pretty clearly two episodes of a prospective television series put together back-to-back. These episodes were a weird attempt to get a series started, too, because while Garris went to the right authors for source material - Stephen King and Clive Barker - he chose a couple stories that few would have thought of bringing to the screen. Not to mention the set-up for the series, which would have had a fellow named Aaron Quicksilver roaming the highways of America, collecting stories and sharing them with ill-fated people he crosses paths with. Quicksilver Highway is a cool title, but Quicksilver himself isn't the coolest character. Played by Christopher Lloyd in a trenchcoat, wig, and dog collar, the guy is more of an amusing sight than a creepy one.

The first half of the movie has Quicksilver coming across a broken-down vehicle where a bride (Missy Crider), still in her wedding dress, is waiting for her groom to return with help. Quicksilver helps her pass the time by telling her a story, putting his own spin on King's Chattery Teeth. A story that is truly about a pair of supernatural novelty chattery teeth. Don't expect this one to give you the willies.

Raphael Sbarge, who also played the groom in the wraparound segment, plays a traveling salesman who is trying to make his way through the desert in time to get home for his son's birthday. Along the way, he buys a large pair of novelty chattery teeth as a gift - and reluctantly picks up a hitchhiker, who gives the salesman a fake name lifted off a CD in the car (Bryan Adams). The hitchhiker is played by Silas Weir Mitchell, who could pass as Sbarge's off-kilter brother, so it's kind of strange they were cast to share scenes as strangers. Much of this story feels like a remake of The Hitcher, just add in a supernatural teeth toy. It's fine, but it doesn't amount to much.

Quicksilver tells the second story to a pickpocket at a boardwalk carnival, and Lloyd chews the scenery extra hard while introducing this one. Based on Barker's The Body Politic, the second half of Quicksilver Highway gets even weirder than Chattery Teeth.

The Body Politic is about a surgeon (played by Matt Frewer, who also plays the pickpocket) who starts to lose control of his hands, which is an unnerving idea that could have been the basis of something creepy. But then the hands start to speak to each other while the surgeon sleeps, we can hear their voices, and we begin to realize that these hands are planning to lead a revolution of hands that will claim their freedom by cutting themselves off the bodies they've been attached to. And that's goofy.

Frewer gets to fight his hands in some scenes that call to mind a version of this idea that was done in Evil Dead II. Then it descends into an absurdity that, unfortunately, isn't as funny as Evil Dead II.

So, Chattery Teeth and The Body Politic, very strange choices when trying to get a series off the ground. Neither half of Quicksilver Highway is great, but when combined it results in an interesting oddity that's worth checking out and will leave you wondering, "Why these stories?" and "Why did they put Christopher Lloyd in that outfit?"

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