Friday, April 5, 2019

Worth Mentioning - Razzle Goes the Dazzle

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.

Robots from the future, Bloodsport, funny Van Damme, and life gone wrong.


Writer/director James Cameron has named a lot of sources of inspiration for his breakthrough film The Terminator. Halloween, The Driver, The Road Warrior. Legally, he had to acknowledge drawing inspiration from two specific episodes of The Outer Limits that were written by Harlan Ellison, but he only did that begrudgingly. Beyond that outside inspiration, the story idea began with a nightmare Cameron had about a knife-wielding metallic being... and that horrific feeling did translate to the finished version of The Terminator. The movie has the feeling of a nightmare.

It begins with a glimpse into a future in which the world has been destroyed by nuclear explosions. Buildings have crumbled, the ground is littered with human skulls, and the survivors are now at war with sentient machines that are trying to wipe them out. In 2029, victory is finally within humanity's grasp, so the machines try a new tactic. They send one of the cyborgs they've been using to infiltrate human camps back in time to the year 1984, when human leader John Connor is about to be conceived. The cyborg, the Terminator, Cyberdyne Systems model 101, is programmed to kill Connor's mother Sarah Connor before he can ever exist. When they find out about this plan, the humans manage to send back one of their own soldiers in an effort to keep Sarah Connor safe.

The Terminator arrives on May 12, 1984, and it's quickly made obvious that this thing is a force to be reckoned with, and not just because it's played by a hulking Arnold Schwarzenegger. When a character's introductory scenes involve them killing a couple punks played by Brian Thompson and Bill Paxton and a gun store owner played by Dick Miller, you know they're bad news. Especially when the Terminator shoves its arm right through Thompson's body. Lance Henriksen shows up later, and not even he has a chance against this thing.

The human tasked with standing up to the Terminator is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), an outmatched but determined fellow who is plagued by nightmares of things he has experienced while fighting in the future war.

Stuck in the middle is the 18-year-old Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who is just a normal girl working as a waitress at a fast food restaurant, serving up "Burly Beef". You wouldn't expect her to spawn a legendary resistance leader. The Terminator doesn't have details on Sarah beyond her name and the fact that she lives in Los Angeles, so it approaches its mission by killing every Sarah Connor in the phone book and anyone who happens to be in the right place at the wrong time - like Sarah's roommate Ginger (Bess Motta) and Ginger's boyfriend Matt (Rick Rossovich), who are home when Sarah isn't.

The cyborg finally catches up with Sarah at a club called Tech Noir, which is also when Reese reveals himself to be her protector. From the point the Terminator makes its first attempt on the life of the right Sarah, which happens just 35 minutes into the 107 minute film, the movie becomes a series of chases and attacks, only taking a quick breather here and there before the next big moment. There are major shootouts and vehicular chases, and a standout sequence where the Terminator wipes out an entire police department.

That police station massacre begins with the Terminator dropping its famous line "I'll be back", spoken to the officer working the front desk right before the cyborg goes outside, then returns to begin the assault by driving a car through the officer and his desk.

The Terminator movies have gone on to become large scale action-adventure films with huge budgets, but the first movie had a budget of just $6 million, so while the action scenes aren't small, they are smaller that what has been seen in the following films. I'm fine with these smaller scale shootouts and chases - in fact, this first movie remains my favorite in the franchise.

My ranking of the first Terminator over the sequels stems from the fact that I love slasher movies, and this movie is a slasher as far as I'm concerned, even if the killer uses guns instead of blades. Like a Halloween or Friday the 13th movie, or any number of other slashers, it's about a virtually unstoppable killer relentlessly pursuing a final girl. You can see the impact this had on some of the slashers that followed, like the Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood being referred to by that film's director as a "meat Terminator" (never mind that the Terminator itself is coated in living flesh, which is why it's able to go through a time displacement device but can't carry any weapons through) and the "Maniac Cop" performing his own police station assault in Maniac Cop 2.

Even the extensive damage Chucky sustains at the end of Child's Play might have been inspired by the damage dealt out to the Terminator. This thing is put through the wringer. At first its able to do a little self-surgery to patch itself up, but by the end of the film its exterior body has been destroyed and it's nothing but a walking metal skeleton. I love stuff like that, seeing an inhuman killer take a beating and keep on coming.

The Terminator is an action-packed dark sci-fi movie, but it also qualifies as a horror movie, and that's more my speed than what followed.


I don't know how director Elvis Restaino's Bloodsport: The Dark Kumite became a Bloodsport movie, because it's not actually a sequel to the three films that came before it. It's sort of a situation like the Bloodfist movies, where the only connection between most of them was the title and the fact that each of the films starred Don "The Dragon" Wilson, usually as different characters. This Bloodsport stars Bloodsport II and III's Daniel Bernhardt, but this time he's not playing the character Alex Cardo from those movies. Here he's police officer John Keller, who is first seen competing in an underground Kumite fighting tournament. When the crowd encourages him to kill his defeated opponent, Keller refuses and gives a speech. "There was a time when Kumite meant honor, but I see now that Kumite here is dead. It has become nothing more than a bloodsport."

Oh. So that's why this is Bloodsport 4. I guess.

When a homicidal maniac named Schrek (Stefanos Miltsakakis) turns up alive and killing a month after he was supposed to have been executed in prison, it calls attention to the fact that Schrek is just one of several inmates who have disappeared from prisons recently. So after capturing Schrek and getting him sent back to jail, Keller and his fellow officers put on an act that makes it look like Keller kills a couple cops in an effort to execute Schrek personally. That way it doesn't seem suspicious when Keller is locked up in the same prison Schrek is sent to, Fuego Penal, so he can investigate and get to the bottom of these disappearances.

Since this is a Bloodsport movie, or so they say, Keller will find out that the missing prisoners have been recruited to compete in the personal Kumite of a wealthy man called Mr. Caesar (Ivan Ivanov), who keeps the staircase in his home lined with scantily clad women. Caesar wants Keller to be one of his fighters as well, but he has a major issue with the fact that Keller won't kill his opponents. So while Keller battles his way through the underground fights run by Fuego Penal's Warden Preston (Derek McGrath), who answers to Caesar, the villains are always hoping that he'll develop a bloodlust so he can be part of their "dark Kumite".

Bloodsport: The Dark Kumite isn't just weird because because it's a sequel in name only. Even if Bernhardt were still playing Alex Cardo, this film would feel out of place in the franchise. It has a very odd, quirky tone and it's purposely silly, but doesn't achieve being comedic. There are strange visuals and characters that give it a bizarre feeling, and I think that was the vision Restaino (who also wrote the story George Saunders fleshed out into the screenplay) had for the movie. When Restaino appears in the film as one of the weirdest characters, a prisoner called Dr. Rosenbloom, and begins a fight scene by having Rosenbloom look directly into camera and say "Round one" before ringing a bell, I'm left with the feeling that this movie is exactly as weird as Restaino wanted it to be... And by being so weird, Bloodsport just doesn't fit in with the other three movies.

I think the marketing decision to call this the fourth Bloodsport did the movie a disservice. Maybe it was the right choice financially, since it draws more attention to the film, but it also meant that the movie was a disappointment to a lot of people who saw it hoping it would be in line with the three previous films. If it was simply called The Dark Kumite or something, it would have a better chance of winning fans with its strangeness. I still wouldn't be a fan of it, as the style isn't appealing to me, but I'm sure some viewers appreciate it.


Although I am very familiar with the early films in Jean-Claude Van Damme's career, I have missed most of the movies he's been in over the last twenty years. I'm watching my way through his filmography and will soon find out exactly what I've been missing out on, but one Van Damme movie I did jump ahead and watch was the 2013 release Welcome to the Jungle. This one caught my attention because it promised to be something a little different from the norm - and it was available to watch on Netflix during one of my trips to Brazil to visit blog contributor Priscilla.

Directed by Rob Meltzer from a screenplay by Jeff Kauffmann, Welcome to the Jungle isn't an action movie, it's a comedy. And Van Damme doesn't play the lead character, that's Adam Brody as Chris, an advertising executive office worker who is too awkward to ask his office crush Lisa (Megan Boone) out on a date and too much of a push-over to really stand up for himself when co-worker Phil (Rob Huebel) steals an idea from him and successfully pitches it to a client. But as the story goes on, Chris is going to have to find some inner strength in order to keep his co-workers alive. Their boss (Dennis Haysbert) sends them out to a small desert island on a mandatory two-day, two-night teamwork / leadership wilderness retreat, and this trip turns out to be a disaster, starting when the elderly pilot who flew them out to the island suddenly dies, stranding them out there.

This wilderness retreat is run by a nonsense-spouting motivational coach who claims to be a former Marine. That's Van Damme's character, Storm Rothchild, and Van Damme is really funny in the role, getting laughs through the goofy advice Storm gives, the way he mangles the English language, and the fact that he's clearly not as wise and skilled as he says he is.

The cast around Van Damme is quite funny as well, with Huebel making Phil an amusing douchebag you love to hate and Aaron Takahashi following his lead as Phil's lackey Troy. Eric Edelstein is a lot of fun as Chris's stoner buddy, as is Kristen Schaal as a woman who is so fond of rabbits that it's a bit creepy. I don't know how much of what they say is Kauffmann's script or what might be improv, but there are some hilarious lines of dialogue in here.

Things on the island rapidly devolve into a Lord of the Flies sort of situation, if Lord of the Flies was about a bunch of idiot adults. The group of office workers split into two tribes, one led by Chris, who actually knows something about surviving in the wilderness, the other led by Phil, who knows absolutely nothing but has the confidence to get people to follow him. Even though he's excited to get to the cannibalism part of being stuck on an island.

I really enjoyed Welcome to the Jungle, and I'm glad I jumped ahead in Van Damme's filmography to check it out. I'm sure that when I am completely caught up on his career that this one is going to rank very highly among his post-1995 films.

This was a family affair for Van Damme, as his daughter Bianca Bree and son Kristopher Van Varenberg are among the office workers.


Actor Luke Perry passed away recently, and while I was certainly aware of him I didn't really know much about him. I had been repelled by Beverly Hills 90210 when I was a kid, so I paid very little attention to anything that was connected to it. Over the course of his thirty-one year career, during which he racked up credits on nine-five projects, the only work of Perry's that I saw were four movies. Reading about him after his passing, I started to regret that. It sounds like he was a great guy, and if I had heard these stories before I would have been a fan of his for years. It's sad that the best stories don't come out until after a person is gone.

One of those four movies I saw was director John McNaughton's Normal Life, which I watched on cable multiple times in the late '90s. And I'll be honest, I was really watching it for Perry's co-star Ashley Judd. She was my focus, but Perry did a great job opposite her.

Like McNaughton's earlier film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Normal Life was inspired by a true crime case. The story here is based on the crimes committed by a bank robbing couple in the Chicago area in the early '90s, and the real case went spectacularly wrong like the situation does in the film. Sadly, bank robberies weren't the only crimes committed by the couple, as law enforcement officers were also wounded and killed by the man along the way. Ironically, he had been a police officer himself.

The screenplay by Peg Haller and Bob Schneider distances itself from reality by changing the names of the characters. Perry's character is police officer Chris Anderson, who meets Judd's character Pam at a bar one night and instantly falls in love. She's smart and quirky, has a dependency on drugs and alcohol, and obviously has mental illness that isn't being properly treated. When Pam cuts up her torso, does Chris get her some serious mental help? No, he bandages her up and buys her a puppy. When she shows up at his dad's funeral sweaty and wearing skates, he just sulks. He's dazzled by the love he feels for her, and by the sex, which they have a lot of (and Judd is often nude in this movie), even though Pam doesn't achieve orgasm.

The majority of the film deals with Chris and Pam's messed up relationship as they gradually run their lives into the ground. Dealing with employment issues and drowning in debt, they decide to start robbing banks to get by in life - and it's nearly an hour into the film before that thought even enters the picture. Things go well for them at first, even while Pam continues to spiral further and further out of control, and then everything comes crashing down.

Normal Life is a good, engrossing, frustrating drama that boasts strong performances from both of its two leads. I have a good number of Perry projects to catch up on, but I have a feeling that this movie is always going to rank very highly among them. It also ranks highly among McNaughton's work - he made a disturbing classic with Henry, but I find this one is easier to sit through.

Something worth mentioning specifically for fans of the Friday the 13th franchise: there's a scene in which Pam plays Russian roulette while Jason Goes to Hell is on TV.

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