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The 1997 Random Awards: A Collection of Bad Accents, Stuffed Bunnies and Face Waterfalls

August 19, 2017

1997 was a fantastic year for cinema. Nic Cage wanted his bunny back in Con Air, Titanic destroyed the box office and surprisingly Jon Voight didn’t win an Oscar for Anaconda. Among all the fantastic films there were many random moments that defined a great year of movies. The following post celebrates the randomness of 97 and cherishes the small moments involving trunk cleaning, people getting smooshed, and argumentative narrators.

Best Request to Put a Bunny Back in a Box Award

Con Air is a gonzo action classic (some hyperbole in the statement) that features Nicolas Cage attempting to get a stuffed bunny to his daughter.

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Worst Accent Award

John Voight’s accent in Anaconda is awesome because it makes zero geographical sense. It’s like a hybrid of Russian, Creole and insanity. I love that Jon Voight went all-in and gave the world a beautifully horrible accent.

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Best Multipass Award

The Fifth Element is a bonkers masterpiece that is still beloved today. Milla Jovovich was awesome as Leeloo and her love of multipasses was a thing of random glory

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Best Dinosaur Smoosh Award

The Lost World: Jurassic Park taught me to never trip when running away from a T-Rex. I’ve always felt bad for the poor guy who was trampled by the rampaging dinosaur because he was straight up obliterated and died because of the “good guy” Vince Vaughn caused all the damage.

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Best Opening Credits Award

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery never gets old. I remember watching it in the theaters four times and loving it more and more. The opening credit scene is pure joy.

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Best Argument With a Narrator

George of the Jungle needs more love. It is a cheeky little thing that is very fun and features a fourth wall breaking moment in which a bad guy argues with the narrator and loses. You never argue with a narrator.

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Best Face Waterfall Award

Face/Off is an insane masterpiece that features grown men doing weird face waterfalls (thanks How Did This Get Made) over people’s faces.

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Less is More Award

Event Horizon showed us a tiny glimpse of hell and it was horrible.

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Best Puns Award

Batman and Robin is a weird film that features Arnold Schwarzenegger punning it up as Mr. Freeze. I remember the 15-year-old me being very confused in the theater.

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Best Alien Cuddle Award

Ellen Ripley is an iconic character who had to deal with a lot of crap in Alien: Resurrection. I still can’t believe she had to cuddle with a weird/gross alien

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Pacino Turns it to 11 Award

Al Pacino really went for it in The Devil’s Advocate. Dude was a great devil.

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Best Pen in the Neck Award

Grosse Pointe Blank is one of my favorite films and I love the hallway fight that ends with a pen in a guys neck. If you haven’t watched Grosse Pointe Blank  do it now!

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Samuel L. Jackson is My Hero Award

Jackie Brown is an underrated film that features another brilliant Sam Jackson performance.

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I Felt Really Bad for Cary Elwes in Liar Liar Award

He was a nice dude who tried his best and lost to a jerk. Cary Elwes was a great Baxter.

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Best Crab Removal

The killer fisherman in I Know What You Did Last Summer pulled off a minor miracle when he was able to fill up a trunk with a dead body and crabs without any seeing. He pulled off a major miracle when he was able to quickly remove them during the day without anyone noticing.

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John’s Horror Corner: Fright Night (2011), reflecting on the 1985 original through the lens of a remake.

August 15, 2017

MY CALL:  Relying far more on its outstanding cast than effects, this wasn’t so great “as a remake.”  But remains very entertaining.  Let’s be honest.  Nothing can compare to the original Fright Night (1985)!  MORE MOVIES LIKE Fright NightWell, you should really see Fright Night (1985) and Fright Night II (1988).

REMAKE SIDEBAR: Other quality horror remakes include Friday the 13th (2009), Carrie (2013), Evil Dead (2013), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), Halloween (2007), The Fly (1986), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Thing (1982; yes, this was a remake) and The Mummy (1999; adventure genre). Those to avoid include Poltergeist (2015), The Thing (2011; a prequel/remake), Cabin Fever (2016), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Night of the Demons (2009), Body Snatchers (1993; the second remake), The Invasion (2007; the third remake), War of the Worlds (2005) and The Mummy (2017; total adventure-style reboot-imagining).

Director Craig Gillespie (The Million Dollar Arm, The Finest Hours) wasn’t known for horror, nor is he now (beyond this movie). But here he is making a contemporized remake of the very first contemporary vampire film ever: Fright Night (1985). In doing so, we relocate the Brewster family from northern California to Las Vegas, a city in which night owls and late shifts are the norm and children of the night need no camouflage.

Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin; Odd Thomas, Green Room) is a solid iteration of the original. He and is single mother (Toni Collette; Krampus, The Sixth Sense) find a handsome single man moving in next door and Charley’s love-hungry girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots; 28 Weeks Later, Green Room) is the first to notice when his attention deviates away from her advances to the goings-on of his mysterious neighbor.  2011’s Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse; This is the End) offers context to two once-best friends who have now grown apart, but are now forced to face their local threat; whereas 1985’s Evil Ed is clearly strange and is, to some degree, a friend or ex-friend (or something), yet neither his nickname nor his relationship with 80s-Charley are explained.

Our new Jerry (Colin Farrell; Total Recall, True Detective) is quite the change up from 1985’s Chris Sarandon (The Resurrected, Fright Night). Sarandon was seductive, smooth, and offered every opportunity for his would-be protagonist victims to survive if they would just look the other way or accept whatever he offered; more forgiving and, perhaps, wise from his lengthened undead years.  But our fanged Farrell, while cagily charming, is typically more sleazy, crude and predatory before his patience is even tested—creating a more cat-and-mouse semi-slasher tone in lieu of occult mysticism.

Jerry also moves in with little baggage, and nary a ghoulish servant or subordinate vampire in sight.  I liked the bullying humor and domestic kinship Billy (Jonathan Stark; House II: The Second Story) brought to the original.  For me it was disappointing finding nothing analogous in role or tone. But a great contemporized remake victory is found in Peter Vincent (David Tennant; Doctor Who), who feels perfectly modeled after an occult-themed Criss Angel (Mind Freak) with a passion for vampirology and a sarcastic cowardice.

I love that we go from this (ABOVE), to this (BELOW)…

Overall, this remake makes decent use of parallels to the iconic scenes of the original, but really they pack none of the atmospheric punch. This is a great flick, a “good” horror movie, but it can’t hold a candle to the original. That said, this remake clearly succeeds at giving us quality entertainment. Yes, I’ve seen it more than once. Yes, I will watch it again. And yes, I bought it. But no, I won’t watch it a fraction as often as the original.  Why…?

2011 vs 1985

We get a toothy maw transformation, some Jedi-jumping and wall-crawling, and all manner of blood gushes.  But where’s the rest?

2011 vs 1985

This just reminds me of Van Helsing (2004)

Truth is, these CGI effects lack the practical old school charm of Amy’s gaping monstrous mouth. In fact, the effects generally don’t impress much at all.  That’s not the film’s strength.  This remake succeeds on the merits of its cast, and everyone seems to do a fine job.  From Tenant’s quips to Charley’s frantic desperation and Ed’s hammed up campy vampire shenanigans, I enjoyed this a lot despite the lack of any memorable effects.  It barely does any justice to writer/director Tom Holland’s (Child’s Play, The Temp, Thinner, Fright Night) original but that doesn’t mean it’s not good.  Give it a chance.

John’s Horror Corner: The Barn (2016), an excellent case study in practical effects-driven microbudget horror.

August 13, 2017

MY CALL:  This is exactly the kind of film I want to see funded…but more funded.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The BarnOther Halloween horrors include Trick ‘r Treat (2007), Night of the Demons (1988), Night of the Demons 2 (1994), Halloween (1978, 2007) and Halloween II (1981, 2009).

MORE Indie Reviews:  Here at MFF we occasionally do horror short film and pre-release indie film reviews on request. Among recent solicited promotions are Order of the Ram (2013; film), Love in the Time of Monsters (2014; feature length), Interior (2014; feature length), Smothered (2014; feature length), In the Dark (2015; feature length), Brother (2016; film), Other Halves (2016; feature length), Scythe (2016; film), The Belko Experiment (2016; feature film, mainstream theatrical release), Shallow Waters (2017; short), Burn (2017; short), Tethered (2017; short) and We Love Selfies (2017; short).

Disclaimer: This review was unsolicited (I requested access to the film). I was neither hired nor paid to produce this critical review, nor do I have an investment stake in the film. This was basically leaked to me.

A group of young trick or treaters break the town’s rule about Halloween and go to the old abandoned barn for a night of mischief.  Strangely, there’s a jack-o-lantern waiting for them and they awaken the Candy Corn Scarecrow, the Pumpkin Man and the Boogeyman—the demonic trio that would form the 30-year-old Legend of the Barn.

This 80s throwback plays to the standard 80s-ish tropes.  Some generally kind-intentioned misunderstood teenagers who love of Halloween, one of our protagonists invites his crush along, there’s a skating rink and silly dialogue, parents never seem to understand, a Halloween expert spouts exposition about the folklore behind Halloween and the true meaning of trick or treat, 80s boobs, teens don’t heed the expert’s warnings, and the black dude dies first!  While tropiness can be annoying in modern releases, they feel more inviting and forgivable here.

I enjoyed a few 80s-esque shots…e.g., the silhouettes of trick or treaters against a hazy moonlit sky—like something straight out of Halloween III (1982).  Probably my favorite moment of the film; kudos to the director of photography (Zane Hershberger).  But this is not just a stylistic 80s throwback, it actually looks like you’re watching a VHS movie!

It gets off to a feisty start (i.e., the flashback opening), but I was really feeling the humble budget (~$40k) for the majority of the effects scenes.  Not all of them, but most.  Someone needs to give these guys some money so they can do more with their next project!  The premise is playful and fun and everything horror should be, but stronger financing could have produced the level of gore-rended latex flesh that I hoped to find and a little more on-screen realization of those effects.  The filmmakers/crew clearly gave 110% and there were numerous (often technically weak, but enthusiastic and appreciated) effects scenes, but most of the time the “demons” just felt like murderous slasher dudes until the last third of the film when the effects appear to have leveled up.  I could sense the Night of the Demons (1988) style being emulated (intentional or not)…but this just didn’t quite hit that mark—again, I blame money more than anything.  Some will argue budget matters less than filmmaking.  But this was made for next to nothing, which is really a strong attribute.  In fact, I had assumed the budget was higher. I’d love to see a “making of” video about how they stretched their dollar on some of those gags (e.g., slicing a head in half, crushing faces).

Director and writer Justin M. Seaman (10/31, Cryptids) and his effects team made an ambitious attempt that leaves me a bit conflicted.  I really want people to see what they’ve done and visualize what this film could have been with more financial support, yet I’m not tempted to recommend it to folks looking for a fun fright flick for the evening (unless they have an appreciation for the challenges of filmmaking).  After all, it’s tough making a serviceable horror film on a tiny budget (and NOT a found footage shake-o-rama in which no one can even see how cheap it is).  I don’t recommend watching this for fun, but I DO recommend watching this to see something that will make you proud as a horror fan or filmmaker.  Again, simply as a horror movie this is not awesome.  But consider this: The Gallows (2015) had a $100k budget and was guerilla-filmed found footage featuring no more effects than an occasional length of rope and someone getting shaky-cam dragged into the darkness.  There were no creatures, no make-up (worth mentioning), no blood, no wounds, no boobs (just sayin’), no nothing.  I hated that movie and, honestly, more money wouldn’t have helped it much given the lack of vision I witnessed on screen.  The Barn, on the other hand, had 40% of that budget and really went for it!  There were well over a dozen practical effects scenes with blood, guts, severed body parts, monster make-up, impalements, dismemberments, stabbings, eye gauges and head smashes…and they did it all with the Hollywood-equivalent of couch cushion change!  And OMFG can we stop to appreciate the awesome theme song played during the beginning of the credits!?!

The Barn offers the promise.  And that’s what I hope to find when I do indie reviews: promise of a better tomorrow for the horror genre.

John’s Horror Corner: Annabelle: Creation (2017), super creepy, super jumpy, super evil, and a fine addition to The Conjuring Universe.

August 11, 2017


MY CALL:  Very jumpy, very creepy, and very much more worthy of your time than part 1!  MORE MOVIES LIKE Annabelle: CreationWell, The Conjuring (2013; podcast discussion of The Conjuring 2), Annabelle (2014; podcast discussion of Annabelle) and The Conjuring 2 (2016) round out The Conjuring Universe. For more evil doll movies one may venture Dead Silence (2007), Dolls (1987), Dolly Dearest (1981)  Puppet Master 1-5 (1989-1994), The Boy (2016), Child’s Play (1988), Curse of Chucky (2013) and even Poltergeist (1982; that evil clown was twisted).

Twelve years after the tragic loss of their daughter Bee (Samara Lee; The Last Witch Hunter), doll-maker Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia; Innocent Blood, So I Married an Axe Murderer) and his now ailing wife Esther (Miranda Otto; War of the Worlds, What Lies Beneath) agree to offer their home as an orphanage for a nun (Stephanie Sigman; Narcos) and six girls. Linda (Lulu Wilson; Ouija: Origin of Evil, Deliver Us from Evil) and her friend are drawn to a doll hidden away in Bee’s bedroom and…well, you know…there’s an evil doll, demonic possession…bad stuff happens.

The Conjuring Universe SIDEBAR: This has been labeled “the next chapter in The Conjuring Universe,” and a Conjuring movie is exactly what this feels like.  Well, The Conjuring (2013) was so outstanding that Annabelle (2014) couldn’t be expected to measure up. But falling far below that, evil doll movies practically make themselves yet Annabelle was an absolutely incompetent horror film that should disappoint fans of the genre whether they were birthed in the era of serious slashers, classic Hammer releases, or campy 80s slapstick gore-fests. The only way Annabelle made it to the big screen was by riding the tidal wave of hype created by its connection to The Conjuring. Then along came The Conjuring 2 (2016)—which felt a lot like Insidious “Chapter 4”—which was clearly made more for the fans than the critics as it focused more on being excitingly jump-scary than on standard merits or sleek plotiness.  This sequel introduced The Nun (i.e., the demon Valek) and gave a fine nod to Annabelle.  Following suit, Creation offers a mysterious wink harbingering the upcoming Nun film (same writer as Creation) and then finishes transitioning us directly into the opening scene of Annabelle (2014).

I wasn’t at all surprised to learn this was directed by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out), as it felt very much like Lights Out (2016) meets The Conjuring 2 (2016) in terms of scare-staging, the use of darkness and flickering lights, the super twitchy monster manifestations, and the roller-coasting dozens of jump scares. I should repeat part of that: DOZENS of jump scares.  Holding together far more soundly and satisfyingly than Annabelle (2014), this plot still wasn’t terribly substantial. It had “just enough,” with the story feeling neither deep nor shallow, and quite familiar without being phoned in or rehashed.  But, then again, we are in The Conjuring Universe and the conduits by which evil manifests in our present cinescape seem to follow the same rules or patterns as we have now witnessed in a total of four films.  It’s the kind of familiarity we find in a Freddy, Jason, Pinhead or Myers sequel…we know the general rules, but we also expect some new angle in each new film to come.

Now I just called this “familiar.” But, make no mistake, it’s quite exciting after a somewhat slow introduction to our premise.  But then becomes exciting if you enjoy jump scares.  As I mentioned earlier, this film thrives on them. You’ll hear something creepy, stare into a pitch-black hallway or doorway for 8 seconds, and press your head into your seat to brace yourself for the inevitable incoming scare.  This may bother folks looking for the next horror Oscar contender, but people just looking for a fun date night or a great popcorn horror will be in for a good time.  In fact, I’d call this outstanding popcorn horror.

What gore we get is good, the acting is all on point, the demon monster effects were VERY creepy, and despite the high frequency of jump-scares there were some seriously legitimate scares as well.  I really appreciated that all that this film tried to do; give us a prequel, connect adequately to both The Conjuring (2013) and Annabelle (2014), provide a semblance of continuity, and serve as a stand-alone horror film.  And, perhaps its best quality, it never really felt like an evil doll movie.  It felt more like a mix between a cursed object and a demonic haunting/possession/presence.  It certainly kept me on my toes.

Overall, I’d say I was quite pleased.  I’ll certainly buy it and, due to the sheer joy derived from all the jump-scares, I look forward to sharing this with someone who hasn’t yet seen it.

MFF Special: Does the Number of Splits in a JCVD Film Impact the Critical and Audience Scores?

August 9, 2017

Does the number of splits in a film impact critical and audience scores? If the star of the film is Jean-Claude Van Damme the answer is “yes.” JCVD is known for his splits and he’s gone to some pretty far lengths to stay relevant in the split world.

86 million views and counting.

I collected the audience (IMDb)/critic (Rotten Tomatoes) data for JCVD’s theatrically distributed films and I’ve discovered something that will shake the foundations of everything we know (probably not). There aren’t that many splits featured throughout JCVD’s cinematic catalog. When thinking about his career I’d just falsely assumed he did splits in every single fight scene. However, after watching way too many clips and reviewing his movies I realized I’m remembering his movies all wrong.  I’d like to thank Grantland (RIP), WatchMojo and Youtube for aiding me in my research.

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Before we get any further I want everyone to know that I left out spinning split kicks and kicks where JCVD is kinda splitting. The splits I included are splits that were thrown into the film because JCVD is awesome at splits. The selected splits are all gratuitous and often result in ball punches and other things that hurt.

This is unnecessary.

I also decided to leave out his direct-to-DVD films (sorry Replicant) because I only have so much free time and aside from the latest Universal Soldier movies I don’t think my soul could take it.

Here are the films that are included in the data set:

Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Timecop, Double Team, Cyborg, Double Impact, No Retreat, No Surrender, Street Fighter, Universal Soldier, Universal Soldier: The Return, Maximum Risk, The Quest, Nowhere to Run, Death Warrant, Sudden Death, Hard Target, Lionheart

Here are the averaged RT critic and IMDb user scores according to splits.

0 – 1 splits – 38.6% (Double Team, Cyborg, Double Impact, No Retreat, No Surrender, Street Fighter, Universal Soldier, Universal Soldier: The Return, Maximum Risk, The Quest, Nowhere to Run, Death Warrant, Sudden Death, Hard Target, Lionheart) – There weren’t critic scores for Death Warrant or No Retreat, No Surrender so I averaged the RT score for 0-1 splits movie (25%) and made those the scores.

2 splits – 50.5% (Timecop)

3+ splits – 56.25% (Bloodsport, Kickboxer)

The majority of JCVD’s films fall in the 0-1 split category. I assumed he did at least 7,000 splits in each film and was taken aback when I realized there was a  dearth of splits in most of his movies. However, the three films where he does multiple splits Kickboxer (7), Bloodsport (7) and Timecop (2) are in the top five of his highest rated films.

  1. Kickboxer – 62
  2. Hard Target – 55.5
  3. Sudden Death – 55
  4. Timecop – 50.5
  5. Bloodsport  – 50.5

Bloodsport and Kickboxer are B-movie classics that feature copious montages, solid fights, and villains who have terrible gameplans. They also feature a bonkers (listen to the HDTGM folks talk about JCVD’s films) amount of splits that are straight up gratuitous. When thinking about the splits of JCVD I’d say Bloodsport, Timecop and Kickboxer will come up first. When you ask people about Hard Target they are quick to bring up snake punching and mullets. When you bring up Sudden Death people talk about the insane kitchen fight.

I really didn’t know what to expect from the data but I think it’s credible. Bloodsport and Kickboxer focus on his strengths and don’t give a crap about the plot, saddling him with kids or giving him a twin. They also have the added luxury of coming out first and introduced the world to gratuitous split moments before they were cool (thus they made him cool). Future JCVD films like The Quest and Lionheart mimicked the tournament/revenge plots with much less skill and splits for some reason.

There you have it! The more JCVD splits the better!  If you liked this post make sure to check out my other random data analysis musings.

  1. Jet Ski Action Scenes Are the Worst
  2. How far did the Merman travel in The Cabin in the Woods?
  3. How far did Matthew McConaughey jump in Reign of Fire?
  4. How Fast can Leatherface run?
  5. Deep Blue Sea and Stellan Skarsgard
  6. How far did Michael Myers Drive in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
  7. How did the Geologist get lost in Prometheus?
  8. People love a bearded Kurt Russell
  9. A Closer Look at Movies That Feature the Words Great, Good, Best, Perfect and Fantastic
  10. An In-Depth Look At Movies That Feature Pencils Used as Weapons
  11. Cinematic Foghat Data
  12. Explosions and Movie Posters
  13. The Fast & Furious & Corona
  14. Nicolas Sparks Movie Posters Are Weird
  15. Predicting the RT score of Baywatch
  16. The Cinematic Dumb Data Podcast
  17. What is the best horror movie franchise?
  18. How fast can the fisherman clean a trunk in I Know What You Did Last Summer?
  19. It’s expensive to feature characters being eaten alive and surviving without a scratch

John’s Horror Corner: Fright Night 2 (1988), a stylish sequel to our favorite 80s vampire movie.

August 8, 2017

MY CALL:  This is a great, stylish, edgy sequel to an old favorite loaded with cool effects, sleek vampires and soft humor. Just great 80s fun!  MORE MOVIES LIKE Fright Night 2Well, after you see Fright Night (1985), The Lost Boys (1987) is similar, but more serious and mature about it. Other somewhat humorous (while still R-rated or PG-13 and bloody) 80s horror include Creepshow (1982), Critters (1986), Vamp (1986), or An American Werewolf in London (1981).

Following in writer/director Tom Holland’s (Child’s Play, The Temp, Thinner, Fright Night) footsteps, director Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: Season of the Witch, It) has some big shoes to fill.  And you know what? I think he did a great job!

After years of therapy, Charley (William Ragsdale; Fright Night, The Reaping) has come to believe that his entire vampire experience was all a delusion since, of course, vampires don’t exist.  So when Regine’s fanged coven comes for him, his girlfriend Alex (Traci Lind; Class of 1999, Spellcaster) and Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall; Embryo, Shakma, Fright Night) must come to his aid.

Led by the sultry Regine (Julie Carmen; In the Mouth of Madness), Bozworth (Brian Thompson; The Terminator, Alien Nation, Nightwish), Louie (Jon Gries; TerrorVision, The Monster Squad) and Belle (Russell Clark; choreographer from Vamp) round out her vampiric team seeking revenge against Charley Brewster for killing her brother, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon in Fright Night).

Belle is a roller-skating vampire of other-worldly androgyny (a perfect 80s vamp), Bozworth knows the taxonomy of every insect he ghoulishly eats with delight, Louie is strikingly werewolf-like (much like Evil Ed), and Regine is a walking sex pot with long sexy fangs. It’s clear that Tommy Lee Wallace is modeling this evil crew after Tom Holland’s, but that’s just fine with me. Each character has some parallels to their 1985 models, but all stand out as interesting and different.

Part 1’s tone is also largely preserved as everything is still quite sexualized and often humorous. I can’t help but to feel that this sequel is a bit more silly (or just sort of “out there”) and just a tad less effective, however it remains a very entertaining favorite.  It has injected a bit more 80s-ness and an enhanced sense of dramatic flair.

The special effects likewise parallel the original and, despite having a lower budget, the special effects are somewhat comparable to part 1.  I especially enjoyed Louie’s wolfish bat hybrid make-up and Bozworth’s entomological death was also a guilty pleasure. The “melting death scenes” lacked the delicious gooiness and lengthy elaboration of part 1’s, but I must say I was thrilled with the finale death and Regine’s creature effects (as a gargoyle-like bat hybrid and later like some skinless menace out of Hellraiser).

It seemed that the lower budget didn’t noticeably hinder this effects team too much—but it did shorten the effects scenes and how much time we spend seeing monster make-up on screen (e.g., Jerry’s various stages of vampiric transformation in part 1 got loads of screen time).

We also still get BIG toothy demon mouths!

In this sequel, we find Charley in a similar situation to his last girlfriend (in 1985). Charley’s “exposure” to Regine results in some symptoms like light sensitivity…much as we observed in My Best Friend is a Vampire or The Lost Boys, both from 1987 and both of which were clearly influenced heavily by Fright Night (1985). I guess the influence has come full circle.  The sexy dance of seduction scene (now with Charley) is done in a manner much more classical to the vampire genre.  Fright Night (1985) did this in quite the raunchy manner.

I remain VERY pleased with both the original and this sequel.  The original had more charm (perhaps stemming from its originality), and this sequel feels more sleek and stylish.  Both really went for it and they remain gratifying even today, 30 years after they were made!

Undisputed (2002), the prison boxing movie featuring Wesley Snipes in his prime.

August 7, 2017

MY CALL:  This is a surprisingly decent movie and so much more than just a fight movie. Snipes and Rhames do great in and out of the ring.  MORE MOVIES LIKE UndisputedWell, you should absolutely watch the sequels all the way through Boyka: Undisputed IV (2017)! Other prison fight movies about illegal competition/fighting rings include The Condemned (2007) and The Running Man (1987). Other worthwhile unconventional boxing films include Gladiator (1992) and Diggstown (1992).

Director Walter Hill (Bullet to the Head, Last Man Standing, Red Heat, The Warriors) brings us the kind of organized prison competition that clearly influenced the style and pattern of Death Race (2008; based on 1975’s Death Race 2000). But where this differs from its sequels and other influenced successors is that this is no “action flick.” This is actually a pretty solid movie that doesn’t need to rely solely on its action.

Charged for a crime he denies committing, heavyweight boxing champ (46-1-0) George “The Iceman” Chambers (Ving Rhames; Piranha 3D, the Mission: Impossible series) finds himself in the very same prison as another purported 68-0 “undefeated champ” of the California State Inter-Prison Boxing Program.  Naturally, he questions the validity of any such claims in boxing greatness. “There’s only one champ in here!”

We first meet Munroe Hutchin (Wesley Snipes; The Expendables 3, Blade 1-3, Rising Sun) dismantling a much larger opponent (Nils Allen Stewart; Bloodsport 2, The Quest, Barb Wire) while showing off his jacked body and surgically vicious technique.  He’s the Iceman’s opposite in every way, in and out of the ring.

The venerable, imprisoned mob boss Mendy (Peter Falk; Next, The Princess Bride), his right-hand man Chuy (Jon Seda; Bad Boys II, Bullet to the Head) and Hutchins’ corner man Ratbag (Fisher Stevens; Hackers, Awake) plant the seeds of competition, taunting the Iceman and questioning his skill.  Meanwhile, Iceman’s cellmate Mingo (Wes Studi; The Last of the Mohicans, Penny Dreadful) and manager Yank (Dayton Callie; Sons of Anarchy, Halloween II) try to steer him from trouble during his sentence.  They set up a high stakes fight between the two champs.

Unlike subsequent movies in which the wealthy warden runs the show (often through criminal means), the head prison guard Mercker (Michael Rooker; Guardians of the Galaxy Vols. 1-2, The Belko Experiment, The Walking Dead) coordinates and serves as the official for the fight.

Two things kept this movie from being great. For one thing, the training scenes were weak. Where’s my training montage? Secondly, the championship bout had no scoring. When Rocky fought Ivan Drago (Rocky IV) the action choreography was great, brutal, and well-staged to cue up emotion—but what truly catalyzed the experience was War playing in the background.  However, this movie makes every effort (and often successfully) to be substantial. So it should come as no surprise that the boxing/fighting scenes are not numerous. But when we get them, they’re good!  Not outstanding (like Rocky IV), but they bask in the excitement of seeing two well-known chiseled actors in the ring instead of an A-list hero and some no-name-actor foe.

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