Friday, August 9, 2019

Worth Mentioning - You Can Fall, But You Can't Fly

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.

Low budget action sequels, a Friday the 13th location, Into the Dark, and John Carpenter.

C.I.A. II - TARGET: ALEXA (1993)

Co-stars in the 1992 action movie C.I.A. Code Name: Alexa, then-married couple Lorenzo Lamas and Kathleen Kinmont took creative control of the sequel the following year. Kinmont crafted the story for C.I.A. II - Target: Alexa with screenwriter Michael January, while Lamas replaced Joseph Merhi in the director's chair. (Merhi did remain involved as producer.) Of course, Lamas and Kinmont also reprise the roles of C.I.A. agent Mark Graver and professional criminal Alexa in the sequel, and while the pair struck up a romantic relationship in the previous film, when this one catches up with them they're in the same situation Lamas and Kinmont would soon be in themselves: they have split up.

Since leaving both crime and Graver behind, Alexa has been living on a horse ranch in a small town with her young daughter. Their ranch home happens to be the cabin from Friday the 13th Part III, a location that I always like to see show up in movies, especially since the structure no longer exists. Bad luck and random violence soon disrupt Alexa's peaceful life, and she ends up forced to work with Graver again to keep her freedom and her daughter. It's quite a coincidence that Alexa's life has fallen apart at the exact same time that Graver has found himself on the trail of a terrorist Alexa has personal history with.

Alexa is tasked to bring down Franz Kluge (John Savage), a fellow who has a very theatrical demeanor and is up to something involving a stolen missile guidance system. Franz is the father of Alexa's daughter, and it's tough to see why Alexa finds this awkward, creepy villain appealing enough to go to bed with. That's not something she leaves in the past, either. Franz and Alexa sleep with each other again soon after she infiltrates his latest hideout.


Regardless of whether or not I understand what Alexa sees in this guy, the histories she has with both Graver and Franz does add to the character's interactions with these guys. I thought the hurt feelings and arguments Graver and Alexa have over their failed romance came off especially well in the movie.

In the directorial department, Lamas struck a nice balance between replicating the unique visual style Merhi brought to the first movie and bringing his own style to the sequel. Hazy scenes with blue lighting, like Merhi would do, are mixed with scenes that have more naturalistic, warmer lighting.

Storywise, I found C.I.A. II to be a decent sequel, despite Alexa's questionable taste in men. I was a bit underwhelmed by the action, but I kind of expected to be. This one might offer sights like Kinmont having a showdown with a musclebound henchwoman played by Lori Fetrick (a.k.a. Ice from American Gladiators) and helicopters spraying bullets and causing explosions, but the first 25 minutes of Code Name: Alexa are a tough act to follow.

One thing about this movie that has frequently come to my mind over the last couple decades is something amusing caused by an audio glitch. Near the end, Alexa climbs into a helicopter being piloted by Franz. He smiles and says her name, but the audio is all weird and out of sync. Alexa smiles back and says something to "Franz", but the audio is even more messed up on her side and her words come out sounding like she's honking like a goose. They look so happy, him out of sync and her making honking noises. Then she punches him.

IMDb trivia claims that a third film in this franchise had been planned and was to be titled C.I.A. III: Nation Under Siege. I don't know if that was really the case, the trivia page is the only result when I do a search for that title, but if C.I.A. III had been made I would have been glad to watch it. I was a fan of both these movies back in the early '90s, and wanted a third one to be made. I was all in for this idea of making Kathleen Kinmont an action heroine, and still am.

CYBORG 2 (1993)

Technically, Jean-Claude Van Damme is in the sequel to his 1989 film Cyborg. Unfortunately, that appearance in the film only amounts to a couple moments of footage from the original film. Van Damme's character Gibson Rickenbacker is not part of the Cyborg 2 story. But when I saw this movie for the first time around my 10th birthday, I didn't mind the absence of Van Damme so much - in fact, I enjoyed this one more than its predecessor. I thought Elias Koteas (Casey Jones from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!) and this striking actress getting her first lead role, Angelina Jolie, were able to carry the movie just fine.

Directed by Michael Schroeder from a screenplay he wrote with Ron Yanover and Mark Geldman, Cyborg 2 has nothing to do with Cyborg, it just happens to be set the future (2074) and tells a story that involves cyborgs. Jolie's character Casella "Cash" Reese is one of them, and she has unwillingly been made a weapon in the fight between the Japan-based company Kobayashi Electronics and the US-based Pinwheel Robotics. Both of these companies seek to monopolize the biotech world, and Pinwheel may have just found the way: they pump Cash full of an explosive substance called Glass Shadow and are going to have her pose as an investor so she can infiltrate a Kobayashi corporate meeting. Once she's in the room with the company's bigwigs, Pinwheel will detonate her.

Cash isn't cool with this plan, so she goes on the run with her combat instructor Colton Ricks (Koteas), who has fallen in love with her and her "hyper-sophisticated psychoemotional program". As they try to figure out how they're going to make it through this situation, they get some guidance from a mysterious fellow called Mercy (Jack Palance), whose mouth keeps showing up on TV screens around them to dispense advice.

Going with Jolie for the lead would have been a very unexpected choice at the time, partly because she was only 17 during production, and also because you'd expect Van Damme to be followed by another person with a lot of martial arts experience. Someone like karate champion Karen Sheperd, who plays one of the villains in the film. Cash does have to display martial arts (and gymnastic) abilities in several scenes, so hiring an expert would be the obvious way to go. Regardless, I sure didn't question the choice when I was 10, and at least Cash seems more impressive than her combat instructor does.

Jolie got emancipated from her parents so the production wouldn't have to deal with the labor laws she would be restricted by otherwise... and also so they could film a love scene between the Cash and Colt characters, which is quite grotty and inappropriate.

In addition to Sheperd's character Chen, Cash and Colt are also hunted by a professional killer - make that "equal opportunity terminator" - named Danny Bench, played by unique character actor Billy Drago. Drago was allowed to go as weird and over-the-top as he wanted to here; the biggest threat with Danny Bench is that he's going to chew the scenery until the set collapses on everybody.

If you want a Cyborg 2 that's like the first Cyborg, you're going to be disappointed. This doesn't deliver that at all. But I find this film to be fun in its own goofy, odd B-movie way, and twenty-six years down the line I still think this one is more entertaining than its predecessor.


A group of women ring in 2019 in an awful way in the New Year entry in the Hulu / Blumhouse series Into the Dark, which consists of twelve feature films released on a monthly basis, each one dealing with a holiday or notable date in its month of release. Director Sophia Takal's New Year, New You was actually released early, at the end of December, so Hulu subscribers could watch it on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. If it had stuck to the "first Friday of the month" schedule, it wouldn't have been released until January 4th. That just wouldn't do.

Written by Takal and Adam Gaines, this movie stars Suki Waterhouse as Alexis, who invites her old pals Kayla (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), Chloe (Melissa Bergland), and Danielle (Carly Chaikin) to celebrate the holiday at a property belonging to her parents where they had sleepovers back in their high school days. That Kayla and Chloe will attend is a given, but Danielle is a long shot - they haven't seen her since she became a popular online self-help influencer who spouts lines like "You control your own destiny, you control what you hold on to, you control what you let go of" and "Nothing stands between you and all of your desires." She also has her own line of vegetable juices and has recently secured a deal for her own TV show.

Alexis seems dismissive of Danielle's success, while Kayla and Chloe have been keeping track of her in a positive way - Chloe a bit too much, she's totally obsessed with following Danielle's social media. Chloe wants some of the money and fame Danielle is now enjoying... and when Danielle actually shows up, Chloe is anxious to hear all about her lifestyle.

Alexis's behavior and some of the things she says (along with the fact that this is part of a horror series) give an indication that this get-together is going to take a turn for the worse. Her mood often drops when she's in the presence of Danielle, she mentions she feels like she has been "bogged down by the past", and the character has a scar on her face that Waterhouse doesn't actually have - so it's obvious she has some resentment toward Danielle over something that happened in the past. Possibly whatever caused the scar.

Danielle's fake demeanor doesn't do anything to disperse Alexis's bad feelings, not even when she gets her friends to participate in a dance routine set to TLC's "Unpretty" like they used to do when they were teens. When Danielle starts filming her friends' New Year resolutions, then makes them stop and do re-takes when they're too honest and open, I really started to dislike her right along with Alexis.

The party falls apart at apart the halfway point of the movie, with things occurring that Kayla, the most reasonable one of the bunch with the most stable life, refuses to go along with, while the easily manipulated Chloe is too willing to do whatever she's told to.

I found New Year, New You to be quite interesting, and all four of the actresses turn in great performances. There were times when I started to wonder how this scenario could sustain the 84 minute running time, but Takal and Gaines pulled it off well, and the actresses made sure that I was always invested in seeing what was going to happen next.

The party in this movie sucks, but the movie itself was a good start to the new year.

VAMPIRE$ (1998)

Twenty-one years ago, I had the chance to ask filmmaker John Carpenter a question during a Yahoo chat Q&A. Since Halloween: H20 had been released that year and I had been disappointed by it while a lot of other viewers were going crazy for it, I asked Carpenter what he thought of it. He hadn't seen it yet, but said he'd kick back with a beer and check it out once it hit video.

Carpenter did that Q&A to promote his own 1998 release Vampires, which is loosely based on the 1990 John Steakley novel Vampire$ - as Steakley put it, the movie kept a lot of his dialogue but used none of his plot.

Accurate to the source material or not, the movie has an awesome opening 30 minutes. We're introduced to a group of Vatican-funded vampire hunters led by James Woods as Jack Crow, a guy who has been in the vampire staking business ever since losing his parents to vampirism, and Crow's team is made up of a cool bunch of character actors and stuntmen. Most of these performers are under-used, but it's still great to see them in action together. Among the team are Mark Boone Junior, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Thomas Rosales Jr., Henry Kingi, Gregory Sierra, and Daniel Baldwin. Baldwin plays a character named Anthony Montoya; that's the only name you need to know, because he and Crow are the only team members who are going to be around for very long.

Crow's team raids a rundown house that's serving as a vampire nest, staking every vampire they come across and using a winch to drag the bodies out into the sunlight, where they burn to a crisp. Strange thing is, they don't find a master vampire in the place. There's always a master in a nest.

That night, as the team celebrates the mostly successful raid with booze and prostitutes, master vampire Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) shows up at their motel and massacres every one of them, only missing Crow and Montoya. The massacre starts with the death of Boone's character and it's one of the most memorable moments in the movie because Valek splits his torso in half with a slash of his hand. Valek proceeds to do things like tear out hearts while proving to be impervious to the team's weapons. We'll come to find out that he's the strongest vampire the team has ever encountered because he is the first vampire that ever existed.

After escaping, Crow has to return to the motel again the next day to stake and burn his team and the prostitutes. And once that's done, the film is never able to be as interesting as that opening stretch. There are a couple action sequences on the way to the underwhelming climax, but they don't stand out as anything special to me.

A big chunk of time in the middle of the film is dedicated to hearing Crow's back story, hearing Valek's back story (he was a 14th century priest who was possessed and underwent a botched exorcism that turned him into an undead creature), and finding out what Valek wants - the Black Cross of Berziers, which will allow vampires to go out during the day. There's also some time to Montoya mistreating and falling for prostitute Katrina (Sheryl Lee), who was bitten by Valek and now has a psychic connection to him. Katrina is able to lead Crow, Montoya, and Father Adam Guiteau to Valek and his vampire lackeys for the climactic rematch.

Vampires is lesser Carpenter in my estimation, but it's still a fun movie to watch every once in a while.

1 comment:

  1. I always liked Vampires. Yes, it's minor Carpenter but minor Carpenter is still better than other people's work. I remember CIA II-Target: Alexa. It was OK, not as good as the first. I also have seen Cyborg 2 which was OK as well.