Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rapid Fire (1992)

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Tagline:

Unarmed and extremely dangerous

Back of DVD:

In this explosive martial arts action adventure, college student Jake Lo (Brandon Lee) is pursued by smugglers, mobsters and crooked federal agents after he witnesses a murder by a Mafia King-pin. When the witness protection program fails, he has to protect himself with his only weapons - his hands. Determined to survive, he takes on Chicago's warring drug lords with the assistance of a renegade cop (Powers Booth) and his beautiful partner.

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Movie Review:

This was a tidy little gem I hadn't heard of. Like most my age, I am familiar with Brandon Lee because he is Bruce Lee's son and because he was The Crow. I also know that that he was tragically killed when filming that movie when a live round was accidentally inserted into a stunt pistol. Early this year I also discovered that he starred along side Dolph Lundgren in the buddy cop action-fest Showdown in Little Tokyo which I enjoyed him in very much. So I decided to check out what else the guy had done, which unfortunately due to his untimely death was not much. His second last movie was Rapid Fire.

We start in China as Italian-American mob boss Tony Serrano (Nick Mancuso) and his cronies (and Al Leong, but more on him later) arrive at a heroin port to meet with counterpart Kinman Tau (Tzi Ma) to discuss trade. More than that, Tony has a bug up his arse and says Tau owes him for all the support he has shown him in getting established as an underworld figure. Tau is unimpressed and fights three guys with a stick to prove his manliness, then sends Tony packing.

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Back in America, Brandon Lee (playing Jake Lo) is quietly going about his day when he sees a student protest about the Tiananmen Square massacre going on ("Free China!"). This gives Lee flashbacks of his father being attacked by police on the June Fourth Incident and he tells the protest leader to get bent. Lee is a budding artist and goes to his art class where he draws a nude blonde, improvised with a dragon for some reason ("It's what I see when I look at her."). The model must like being associated with a dragon and asks him out. That's a good trick - draw ladies in the nuddy with a dragon and you'll get a date out of it.

When Lee arrives at an art gallery for his date he realises it's a con as the guy from the protest is there going on about freeing China again. The model convinces him to stay for a drink and he does. However at the same party is Chang, Tau's business partner, who briefly meets with Lee then goes upstairs to his office. Waiting inside however is Tony Serrano and his pals. This time Tony is trying his muscle on Chang. What a tool; he couldn't beat the boss so he goes after the second-in-command. Pretty weak. If the shit didn't hit the fan he would probably go after the cleaning lady, but when Chang refuses to hand over his drug deals, Tony blows him away through a glass window.

Unfortunately Lee was there at the time and saw the whole thing. Tony realises and takes a few shots at him but Lee unleashes his martial arts fury on everyone, breaking much glass in the process, then even trashing the place with his motorbike. Tony flees but Lee is arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, though is convinced (re: blackmailed) by FBI agent Frank Stewart to be a witness to the murder of Chang by Tony. Lee is put into protective custody in Chicago but that was just a setup by crooked FBI agents who kill his entourage and try to take out him as well. Lee pulls his martial-artsness again and channels a bit of Jackie Chan, using refrigerator doors as weapons etc.

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Brandon Lee is pretty good at the various styles he puts on show, though I got the feeling during Rapid Fire that he had slowed it all down on purpose. I could be wrong, but I reckon he was actually much faster than what we got to see in this. It's not like the movie was slow, but the title "Rapid Fire" isn't that accurate. More accurate would be "Quickened Pace Fire", or "Faster than you but still not as fast as it could be Fire". It's all pretty enjoyable though, with cliched Italian-American crims, car chases and shootouts aplenty - and the obligatory awful sex scene with 80's power ballad soundtrack.

Though double-crossed by the FBI, Lee agrees to help the local Chicago police who have more of an interest in Tau than in Tony Serrano, but they'll take what they can get. He first meets the local detective by chance; Lee had gone to meet FBI agent Frank Stewart when Mace Ryan (Powers Boothe - great name) arrives on the scene. Frank's henchmen start shooting and Lee and Mace Ryan escape, shooting back and blowing shit up (queue explosions) and Lee gets a handle on twin pistols, guns akimbo style. Mace Ryan is one of those hard-arsed cops that when pissed at his poor bowling game shoots the pins (yes, he actually does this).

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There's a bar/restaurant brawl that is pretty awesome actually with its display of machine gun carnage, but the real gold is the final sting where Lee dresses up as a Chinese labour worker by simply putting on a head bandanna and a pair of glasses and infiltrates Tau's operations in Chicago. Lee demonstrates his flawless Cantonese (he was expert by age eight, apparently) and knowledge of Chinese culture, but most importantly he has a fight with Al Leong! Leong is great; he turns up in all the best 80's/90's action fare as the henchman of some other Chinese guy. He doesn't utter a single line in Rapid Fire but gets a good exit by getting smacked around by Lee and stabbed in the stomach.

Overall this is a good piece of fun. There's nothing outstanding in Rapid Fire but it's definitely solid and well polished action, with just a bit of light comedy thrown in. It's a real shame that Brandon Lee departed this Earth so soon as I think he would have had a great career in action/martial arts movies.

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The Video:

I reviewed the R4 DVD from 20th Century Fox and all was well here. A nice sharp 16:9 enhanced widescreen presentation with a clean stereo soundtrack that makes this 1992 movie look and sound as good as it can. I read on another review that the R4 is slightly censored, having been based on the R2 UK master. Apparently it is missing a nun-chuck fight scene; I certainly don't recall seeing this so it must be true, but I didn't notice any clumsy edits either. Runtime 92 minutes.

Sourced From:

eBay for a couple of bucks

Trailer:

More Screens:

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cobra (1986)

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Tagline:

Crime is a disease. Meet the cure.

Back of DVD:

Like Sylvester Stallone's Rocky and Rambo, the hero of Cobra is another original: Lt. Marion Cobretti, a one man assault force whose laser-mount submachine gun and pearl-handled Colt .45 spit pure crimestopping venom.

Rambo: First Blood Part II director George P. Cosmatos rejoins Stallone for this thriller pitting Cobretti against a merciless serial killer. The trail leads to not one murderer but to an army of psychos bent on slashing their way to a "New Order" - and killing the inadvertent witness (Brigitte Nielsen) to their latest blood spree. Fortunately, Cobra is her protector. And full-throttle screen excitement doesn't get any better.

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Movie Review:

If the IMDB listing is to be believed, then somehow I have managed to never see a Canon movie. I own a few on DVD - Missing in Action, Masters of the Universe - and I am aware of others, like the American Ninja and Death Wish series, but these movies are all in the 'to be watched' pile. One of the oldest in that pile was Sylvester Stallone's Cobra, so why not kill two birds with one Stallone (haaa.....) and review an underrated Sly movie and my first Canon movie?

The film opens with the distinctive, gravely slurred voice of Sylvester Stallone over the credits telling us about how violent America has become - a violent crime every 24 seconds, a murder every 20 minutes - followed by shots of some gang members clanging axes together. Flick forward to a supermarket scene where a deranged looking hobo with a bad moustache begins unleashing shotgun fury upon other customers and defenceless goods. The cops arrive and try to talk the madman out of there but they are unsuccessful (the crazy loon sets a guy free then shoots him in the back anyway).

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That's when they call in The Cobra. Stallone arrives, total badass chewing on a match stick, on motorbike with the most awesome pair of aviators you've ever seen. They are like giant mirrors and reflect the scenery perfectly. The detectives fill him in on the situation and Sly sneaks in to the supermarket, stopping to drink an unrefrigerated beer then blows the guy away after a short interchange of words: "I'll blow this place up!", "I don't shop here." Boom!

The Cobra is a great action hero and could have spawned a series of movies. Cobra: Executive Decision? Cobra: Final Impact? Cobra: Explosion Imminent? Sounds great to me. The Cobra is an asshole too. When a pack of Mexican hooligans park in "his" car spot, he simply nudges their car out of the way with his own. The Cobra cleans his guns whilst watching children's cartoons on television. During the ad break he sees a news report about a serial killer called The Night Slasher (played by Brian Thompson who I recognised as the alien bounty hunter from The X-Files, but has been in various 80's and 90's action movies like Cynthia Rothrock's "Rage and Honour", JCVD's "Wrong Bet" aka "Lionheart" and his own starring vehicle Hired to Kill, something I intend to get a hold of and review as soon as I can).

Anyway, The Night Slasher has killed his sixteenth victim and looks to keep the bodies piling up. He and his masked associates attack helpless women in their cars (they're REAL MEN). Cobra wants in on the case but his captain thinks he's too much of a loose canon and denies him. As more women are killed, however, the decision is reversed and Cobra gets to go after The Night Slasher and his gang. I should mention Cobra's partner, the sugar-addicted Sergeant Gonzales (Reni Santoni) who, with his flat driving hat, looks like he should be driving a New York taxi. He obviously plays second banana to Lieutenant Marion 'Cobra' Cobretti and they playfully insult each other. They ask questions around town (to the tune of a horrible song called Angel of the City; woeful 80's pop of the worst kind) in all the sleazy places but get nowhere.

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The Night Slasher and his gang tries for their next victim, Ingrid (Brigitte Nielsen, Red Sonja!), a stripper. After leaving her work she gets attacked in the car park but gets away in her car. She did however get to see the Night Slasher's face and goes to the cops to give her statement to the Cobra. Cobra and his partner try to keep Ingrid safe but the Night Slasher knows that she has seen his face (there's a leak somewhere in the force) and tries to kill her by sneaking into her hospital posing as a cleaner wearing goofy glasses. Genius.

The movie plays out how you think it does - protect the girl, kill the bad guys - and has all the action you could possibly want and justify for a movie like this (lots). There's a pretty sweet car chase of three cars that fly over hills repeatedly (Sly's car ends up in pretty rough shape), crashing through news stands etc. He does a handbrake one-eighty and shoots at oncoming traffic with a machine gun (awesome) and - get this - his car has a Nitrous button! One hit and Sly and Ingrid rocket down the highway, avoiding exploding tanker trucks. Cobra gets chewed out by his captain again, there's a tacky love scene at a motel between Cobra and Ingrid, and it culminates in an all-out war with bikies, grenades and the token finale at a refinery with lots of stealthy stabbings. Gold.

I loved this movie. Why does it never get spoken about? If like me you somehow managed to miss seeing Cobra, make sure you pick up a copy soon and revel in it's awesomeness. It's great 80's B-grade with a Hollywood star action like Raw Deal and Action Jackson.

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The Video:

I have the R4 DVD but I almost managed to obtain a nice 720p HD version of the film that was broadcast on TV. Whilst grainy it was the grain I expect and want from a 1980's action movie. I would be happy to see this master used on an eventual Blu-ray, it was more than acceptable for the source material, and a definite upgrade to my DVD (I did a quick comparison). Runtime 87 minutes.

Sourced From:

The DVD I got so long ago I don't remember. The HD rip I got out there in Internet land, search Cobra HDTV and you'll find it (note: I do not condone piracy; make sure you own the DVD first and we can simply consider this 'media shifting').

Trailer:

More Screens:

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Raw Deal (1986)

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Tagline:

The system gave him a raw deal... Nobody gives him a RAW DEAL.

Back of Blu-ray:

Dismissed some time ago from the FBI, Mark Kaminksy is contacted by his old boss, Shannon, whose son has been murdered. Determined to find the assassin, Shannon needs Kaminsky's help and offers to re-instate him if he is successful. Kaminsky assumes a new identity and moves to Chicago where he ingratiates himself with the underworld. To be successful, it is vital he is accepted by the gangsters...

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Movie Review:

Arnold Schwarzenegger, in my opinion, is the number one action movie star of the 80's. Others prefer Stallone for his Rambo's or Van Damme for Kickboxer and Bloodsport, but I grew up on Arnie. His body of work was also more varied than the other stars (at least the plot lines were) but still he remained focused on the action. This of course changed in the 90's when he had misfires like Junior and Jingle all the Way, but Arnie's 80's action one liners are funnier than any comedy movie he ever attempted and is partially what is so memorable about him.

Sandwiched in between two undeniable classic Schwarzenegger movies - Commando (1985) and Predator (1987) - came Raw Deal, one of Arnie's most underrated movies. Everybody remembers The Terminator, Commando and Predator. Most people remember The Running Man and Conan the Barbarian. Less would recognise Red Heat ("Is that the one where he's a Russian?") and I would say that even less would remember Raw Deal. This is truly a shame; it is not his best movie by any means, and there are not many good one liners (but one of his best is present) but the action is up there with any of his other 1980's action movies.

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The movie starts with a sniper and a team of gangsters armed with machine guns taking out a few undercover cops in a cabin in the woods. Once the cops are dispatched with, the leader finds a man cowering in the bathroom. He is propped in front of a mirror so he can see himself being executed ("So you wanna be a witness? Witness this."). The FBI arrive on the scene later, one of the leading detectives Harry Shannon (Darren McGavin) clearly more upset than the others; "They're dead." Okay it sounds more emotional when you hear it.

Next we follow Schwarzenegger in lumberjack threads and driving a jeep through dirt roads chasing a guy on a motorbike. Not able to catch up with him, Arnie doubles back and waits for the guy on return, calmly pouring petrol on the road and throwing a lit cigar at the puddle when the bike approaches. The guy flies off his bike in the explosion and Arnie hauls him in to the station. Arnie it turns out is a small town Sherif, and the guy is booked for impersonating a police officer. Arnie returns home after a hard days work to see his drunk wife crying into a cake she is baking. Depressed with her life in nowheresville, Arnie explains he did the best he could under the circumstances - the circumstances being kicked out of his former job at the FBI - a story she has obviously heard a hundred times, so writes the word "SHIT" in whipped cream on the cake and throws it at Arnies head. He responds.. "You should not drink and bake." Classic.

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Arnie receives a phone call from his former FBI boss, Shannon, who wants to meet with him. Shannon shows him some video of a Chicago crime gang (fronted by Luigi Patrovita) and explains that they are responsible for his son's death - his son being one of the cops guarding the witness killed in the opener. Shannon's plan (which is not authorised by the FBI) is for Arnold to go in undercover to infiltrate the Patrovita gang, gain their trust and destroy them from inside. In return he will be reinstated with the FBI. Arnie agrees and away we go.

The action in this movie is in tight little pockets. There will be plot exposition for a while then small bursts of tight action. This style is inline with most of Schwarzenegger's 80's output, particularly something like Red Heat, but with far less comedic elements. This is a straight-up crime-based action movie, with cliched Italian-American mob characters and plenty of shootouts - a great recipe for bad action in my book.

Arnie quite cleverly doesn't go direct to Patrovita. Instead, he makes a name for himself by messing up the affairs of Patrovita's rival, Martin Lamanski. In an underground gambling room, Arnie insists that the roulette table is not straight and proves his point by dropping two ball bearings on the table (which roll away). This results in a standard-issue bar fight including a television going through a guys head and one of the cronies left dangling from the cieling. As the remainder of the gang recover, Arnie nicks off with a truck and ploughs it right through the wall!

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Eventually Arnie makes himself known to Patrovita via his underling, Paulo Roccoa, and his assistant Max Keller (played by 80's staple Robert Davi). Max doesn't trust Arnie one bit. I should mention that Arnie's assumed crime name is Joseph P. Brenner. In an alley fight broken up by the cops he is asked what the P stands for; "Pussy". Oh, Arnold. He ends up getting the job of assistant thug and also meets Max's would-be-except-she-don't-want-none-of-that girlfriend Monique (Kathryn Harrold), befriends her, gets drunk with her and falls unconscious in her motel. Watch for when he falls on the bed hitting his head on the headboard. Thud.

There is plenty action staples in Raw Deal. The aforementioned bar fight, a scene at a night club (with strippers), a car chase with shootout, a guy being thrown through a glass window, a bomb threat and a car crashing into a tanker truck and exploding - all great stuff and done well. The two final shootouts are excellent; one at a coal mine to the tune of "I can't get no satisfaction", and the other one quite methodical in 'The Terminator bursting into the police station' style at Patrovita's offices.

So, Raw Deal is a good little actioner. Derivative, sure, but Arnie sells it well, and it's enjoyable seeing him earn the trust of Patrovita and his gang then watch him destroy it all in the end. In a way it's refreshing - many of Arnie's action movies involve aliens, other planets, fantasy worlds and killer robots from the future. This, like Commando, is the Steven Seagal style of an ex-something-or-other agent out for revenge/one final job - just with a little mob flavour added.

Underrated, and very worthy of your time.

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The Video:

Even though this is a lesser-appreciated Arnie movie from the 80's, the transfer here is nothing less than astonishing. Fine detail never seen before on DVD is clear as a bell here. Great colour representation, deep blacks, etc. I couldn't expect an 80's actioner to look any better than this, and that's a big compliment. The audio too is clear and refined with a DTS-HD Master Audio track. There are also a couple of good featurettes on the disc (this is the Australian release Blu-ray but it is zone ABC so will work worldwide). Feature runtime 105 minutes.

NOTE: the screenshots in this review are from the DVD as I cannot capture Blu-ray images yet.

Sourced From:

JB-Hi Fi for $24.95

Trailer:

More Screens:

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