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John’s Horror Corner: Don’t Breathe (2016), so much more than a home invasion movie with a dark secret.

August 27, 2016

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MY CALL:  Far from a home invasion movie, this film is much more than you’d expect from the trailer…and way more brutal. This was an entertaining thriller that unexpectedly unfolds.  MOVIES LIKE Don’t Breathe:  Maybe 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) for more crazy recluse action or Hush (2016) for more sensory impairment horror.

At first I was honestly not excited about this film despite the fact that it stars Stephen Lang (The Monkey’s Paw, Into the Badlands), who I tend to like as the moderately older yet still tough guy (e.g., Avatar).  I mean, I was gonna’ see it—but I intended to wait for HBO.  The story of a group of twenty-somethings robbing a surprisingly capable blind war veteran and having it blow violently up in their faces simply didn’t appeal to me as a way to spend $10 on a Saturday afternoon.  And that’s all the early trailers showed us…however, newer trailers indicated that there might disturbingly be more to the story.

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But then it was pointed out to me that the lead was Jane Levy (Suburgatory)—who starred in the Evil Dead remake which I actually very much enjoyed—and that Fede Alvarez, who also wrote and directed the Evil Dead (2013) remake, wrote and directed this.  You’ll also notice (in my parenthetical annotations, like these) that our three home invaders have been cast by actors with a fair bit of horror experience.  Okay…nooooow I guess I’m on board.

So Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette; Goosebumps, Let Me In) and Money (Daniel Zovatto; It Follows, Fear the Walking Dead) are three young criminals who intend to rob a blind man (Stephen Lang; The Monkey’s Paw, Salem) of his wealth which he evidently keeps as cash hidden in his home…rather than a bank, annuity or investment account.  Of course, as the trailers clearly forecast, it doesn’t go as planned.  The blind man is aware of their presence, traps them in the house and proceeds to hunt them down.

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But why doesn’t he just call the police?  Because this is more than a simple home invasion movie.  Our blind man is hiding more than just money in is largely abandoned neighborhood—he has something to hide and he’ll go to great lengths to keep his secret.

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Much as she did in in the Evil Dead remake, Jane Levy physically undergoes some tough scenes for the sake of her art.  From sexual assault and generally taking a beating to close-quarters dog attacks and tunnel ratting, Levy did more to build this film’s intensity than most already-mainstream actresses would ever consider.

SIDEBAR: In the past I’ve praised some actresses for what they physically endure on film: Jo Beth Williams (Poltergeist), Jenny Spain (Deadgirl), Isabelle Adjani (Possession), Elma Begovic (Bite), Linda Blair (The Exorcist), the entire cast of The Descent, Monica Belluci (Irreversible), the women of Martyrs, Charlotte Gainsbourg (AntichristNymphomaniac), Alison Lohman (Drag Me to Hell), Danielle Harris (Halloween), Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), the cast of The Human Centipede films, and all actresses from the I Spit on Your Grave films, the women of all other TCM old and new and Last House on the Left films/remakes, Monica Bellucci (Irreversible), that poor woman in Cannibal Holocaust, and now we must add to this list Jane Levy (Evil Dead, Don’t Breathe).
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In fact, the whole cast (Lang, Levy, Minette and Zoyatto) see their fair share of enduring physically violent scenes. Not that they didn’t have some help from stunt doubles, but I imagine the cast walked away from the set with quite a few bumps and bruises at the end of filming.

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Perhaps providing him with more ammunition in his campaign to play Cable in the Deadpool sequel, Lang really brings the intensity on many levels.  I think he was channeling a PTSD iteration of 10 Cloverfield Lane’s shut-in headcase (i.e., John Goodman).  At first, it’s a quietly lethal intensity, later escalating in pitch to the desperate shrill of a war cry.  As he shifts gears from defense to offense, his home intruders likewise shift from playing a silent game of cat-and-mouse to fighting for their lives.

Stephen Lang stars in Screen Gems' horror-thriller DON'T BREATHE.

I may not have been handed quite enough to care about the pseudo-protagonist home invaders (mostly Levy’s character, really), but the situation felt more than sufficiently dire for me to feel nervous for them at first, and terrified for them later.  And not just dire, but outright BRUTAL.  The violence in this is brutal and, although limited to blood and swollen bruising make-up, the bloody effects felt pretty intense—clearly efficiently magnified by the situation.  When Lang gets his hands on these young criminals you quickly learn to fear for them.  And when Lang hits them, it hits deeper than Rocky’s blows in the final round.  His strikes aren’t striving for glory or desire; he’s trying to beat you to death and I believed him every time he made a fist or clutched a throat.

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Lang is intense as the hound, and Levy a magnificent hare.  We also see echoes of Sam Raimi’s influence (he’s a producer) with some of the neat sweeping shots, the dreaded cabin-like isolation, and the use of the infrastructural guts of the house.  The most notable “new” dimension added to this film was the occasional use of total silence when you find yourself listening along with Lang for the sound of their breath.

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Folks, I agree that the premise probably sounds lame.  But this flick is pretty awesome and after 20 minutes it doesn’t even resemble a home invasion movie.  See this, applaud Levy’s dedication to rough roles, reconsider Lang as a petite Cable and, most of all, ENJOY!

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The Best One-Punch Knockout of 1996: Will Smith Crushes an Alien In Independence Day

August 26, 2016

Decades of cinema have taught us that fighting aliens is terrible. They are big slippery things that ooze acid and have weird exoskeletons that prevent cranial damage. Whether it be Alien, Aliens, Predator, Mars Attacks, Cloverfield, Battleship, Cowboys and Aliens or District 9 we’ve learned that aliens don’t go down easily. Movie characters need robots, water, Harrison Ford or lots and lots of mud to defeat the extraterrestrial menaces.

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Mud Arnold > Predator.

The 1996 film Independence Day taught the world a very important lesson. If you are Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith), you can knock out aliens with one-punch. Here is how it went down:

  1. Hiller shoots down an alien ship.
  2. Hiller walks up to the alien ship.
  3. Hiller knocks out an alien with one-punch.
  4. Hiller picks up the heavy alien and drags it across the desert.

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What I love about this scene is that it plays against expectations. You’d expect the alien to jump out and murder the unsuspecting Smith. However, the alien pops out without a plan and gets chin-checked for its troubles. Smith’s punch is 100% legit and it actually finds the blind spot of the alien. I’d wager that the alien was way too confident and never thought the angry pilot would hit so hard.

Will Smith’s punch is incredible considering these aliens are actually big suckers who enjoy murdering wimpy doctors. Later on in the film the same alien tricks some unsuspecting doctors and delivers a very squishy death to the wimpy folks. The doctors had no chance and the scene plays with familiar alien attack conventions. Here is the clip.

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The alien attack on the doctors makes the one-punch KO all the more impressive. Hiller delivered a perfect punch to the cocky alien and then ended up wiping them out with Jeff Goldblum.  That is why Will Smith wins the award for the best punch of 1996.

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The MFF Random Awards: 1996 Edition!

August 25, 2016

Hello all, Mark here.

1996 was loaded with cinematic randomness. Whether it be Michael Keaton talking about eating dolphins or Carl Weathers stressing hip movement, we were lucky to have great actors doing weird things onscreen. Since it is 1996 week, and I couldn’t write about every film I decided to compile an assortment of random awards that highlight all things 1996. Be prepared for a list that is so random it features awards for Best Emaciated Matt Damon and Best USSR Missile.

Sit back, relax and appreciate the 1996 randomness.

Best Hip Movement Award

Happy Gilmore taught me everything I need to know about golf. I love Carl Weathers and his tension easing techniques are charming, practical and hilarious

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Best Barbed Wire Tattoo Award

Bound is a fantastic thriller and Gina Gershon rocks a great fake tattoo.

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Best USSR Missile Award

Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood is a weird little film that features an impressive weapon escalation. I love me some 80s/90s Wayans Brothers’ movies and I remember watching this movie a lot on VHS.

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Best Tall Guy Walking Award

Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum do some great “tall walking” in Independence Day. I should’ve added these guys to my walking piece.

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Best Surfing, Hang Gliding and Basketball Award

Snake Plissken completed the world’s first Science Fiction Pentathlon in Escape From L.A.

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Best Regaining of Memory Award

The Long Kiss Goodnight is crazy violent, always fun and wonderfully written by Shane Black.

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Best John Leguizamo Award

John Leguizamo is awesome in Romeo & Juliet.

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Best Room in Need of an Air Freshener Award

There are lots and lots of farts in The Nutty Professor.

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Best French Fried Potaters Award

Billy Bob Thornton and his french fried potatoes made Sling Blade a very good film. I’m still happy he won an Oscar.

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Best “Evil” Smoking Award

John Travolta smokes way too many cigarettes in Broken Arrow. Check out my piece on his evil smoking habits.

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Best Dragon Who Sounds Like Sean Connery Award

The dragon in Dragonheart became an instant father figure when Connery lended his voice to it.

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Best Usage of a Wood Chipper Award

The wood chipper scene in Fargo might be the most iconic moment of 1996.

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Best Usage of Jamie Kennedy Ever Award

Jamie Kennedy was really good in Scream and Scream 2. Dude nailed his role as Randy.

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Best/Weirdest Subplot Involving an Underage Natalie Portman Award

Natalie Portman’s character in Beautiful Girls was so precocious she made grown men want her. It was weird.

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Best Hair Award

Bill Murray was amazing in Kingpin. He might be my favorite sports movie villain ever.

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Best Usage of too Many Voicemails

The voicemail scene in Swingers still makes me cringe. Try not to cringe while watching it.

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Best Monologue involving Watersports

Bottle Rocket is one of my favorite films and Luke Wilson totally nails this Wes Anderson written monologue.

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Best Wallet Pizza

Multiplicity is a weird movie that features four Michael Keatons and pizza being stuffed into a wallet. You should watch it.

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Best Emaciated Matt Damon

Matt Damon got crazy skinny in Courage Under Fire.

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MFF 1996 Special: Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket

August 24, 2016

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I love the people in this film, who are genuinely innocent, more than even they know.

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Bottle Rocket was a revelation to me when I was 14. I first heard about Wes Anderson’s directorial debut when he won the MTV award for Best New Director in 1996. I immediately sought out the VHS and watched it three times in two days. There was something refreshing about the meandering plot and low stakes crime. I never knew where it was going and I still think Dignan (Owen Wilson) and Anthony (Luke Wilson) wore perfect book store robbery disguises.

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I loved everything about Bottle Rocket. I understood the film despite the fact that I was a 14-year old kid who never stole from his parents or planned a robbery with James Caan. Roger Ebert didn’t write a glowing review for Bottle Rocket but he nailed what is special about it and what was to come.

“Bottle Rocket” is entertaining if you understand exactly what it is: if you see it as a film made by friends out of the materials presented by their lives and with the freedom to not push too hard. Its fragile charm would have been destroyed by rewrites intended to pump it up or focus it; it needs to meander, to take time to listen to its dialogue, to slowly unveil character quirks, particularly Dignan’s.

It’s the kind of film, in fact, that a festival like Sundance is ideal for. An audience that knows about the realities of low-budget independent filmmaking will probably find a lot of qualities in here that might elude wider audiences. I can’t recommend the film – it’s too unwound and indulgent – but I have a certain affection for it, and I’m looking forward to whatever Anderson and the Wilsons do next.

The best monologue of 1996

Bottle Rocket revolves around two bored guys trying to become criminals. The movie starts with Luke Wilson’s character Anthony “escaping” from a relaxed mental asylum. The escape is unnecessary because he could’ve simply walked through the front door. However, Anthony’s friend Dignan (Owen Wilson) has come up with a 75-year plan that begins with Anthony escaping from a place he doesn’t have to escape from. After the successful “escape” they steal from their parents, rob a bookstore and go on the lam. They hold up in a small hotel and Anthony falls for the maid that works there. Eventually the dynamic duo splits up and they end up perpetrating the worst theft ever.

Bottle Rocket is a weird little film that showcases everything that would make Wes Anderson great.  We are introduced to underachieving men who suffer from “exhaustion” and have obvious issues with their family. They are outsiders who don’t think they are outsiders and they plug along despite constant setbacks. They are totally earnest in their pursuits and I love how non-cynical the whole thing is. Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson loved the characters and their personalities shot from the screen in ways I didn’t think possible.

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Wes Anderson’s films aren’t for everybody but I love every single one of them. The reason Bottle Rocket is my favorite is because it solely focuses on creating likable characters. It doesn’t have the flashy set pieces of The Grand Budapest Hotel or visual pizzazz of Moonrise Kingdom. It features several characters being weird and engaging in trivial activities. The characters felt familiar and the film has never gotten old because the themes are timeless and truly unique.

Watch Bottle Rocket!

The Best Moments of one of the Worst Years in Horror: looking back 20 years to 1996

August 24, 2016

This is a follow-up article to:
The Best Moments of one of the Worst Years in Horror: looking back 20 years to 1995

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There are great horror films (e.g., Saw, The Conjuring), there are typically color-by-numbers trope-rich sequels (e.g., A Nightmare on Elm Street after part 3) and there are zany, gory, low budget direct-to-video releases (e.g., Puppet Master and almost everything by Full Moon Entertainment).  Generally we see maybe one or two greats, several enjoyable trope-rich flicks, and countless DTV releases in any given year.  We recently did some articles on more recent “best moments” in horror: 15 Images for 15 Years of Horror, Part 1 (2000-2014): some of the greatest, goriest, most shocking and most memorably defining moments in horror since 2000 and 15 Images for 15 Years of Horror: Part 2: The Good, the Bad and the Hilarious.  But I think we all know that The Best Horror came from the 80s!

Now the year of 1996… I know what you’re thinking: “John, Scream came out that year. How can ’96 be a bad year for horror?”  And to you I have two answers:

  1. 1996 was a part of the 90s.  As a blanket statement, all years of that decade were generally bad for horror fans.  A few good gifts under the Christmas tree from mom and dad don’t let us completely overlook a stocking full of coal.  Check out my Horror Index and you’ll find very few 90s horror reviews.  There’s a reason for that!

  2. I really struggled to put together 10 decent movies for this list.  Granted, for 1995 I included The Granny and The Ice Cream Man…making 1995 twice as bad as ’96, for which the only wild card was Head of the Family (1996).  Thank God I didn’t need to turn to Carnosaur 3 (1996).

In the 1990s there were almost no sequels to please fans of proven franchises, few DTV releases worth mentioning, and the best movie referenced in this article (Scream) was probably treated as a “thriller” instead of a “horror” in your local Blockbuster store since slashers fell into that now-forgotten category.  But, in honor of our “1996 Year in Review Week” we turn back the clock 20 years to reflect on the more memorable moments that 1996’s horror had to offer.  So here are some moments from ten movies, in no particular order…

Scream (1996) made phones terrifying again, reignited our fear of stupid masks and got us to start talking about the dynamics of horror.

Why?  Because this was a metamovie, a film that permitted its characters to discuss the nature of the film itself and filmmaking.

As their classmates are killed our lead horror analyst actually explains the things one does that creates or protects victims.
We actually discuss this at length in our Scream on Elm Street podcast episode.

From Dusk ’til Dawn (1996) seems to be the Baskin’ Robbins of vampire flavors…

Cheech Marin turns into a Klingon vampire.

Danny Trejo turns into an Incredible Hulk vampire with powerlifter traps!

Salma Hayek turns into a snake demon vampire

And Quentin and George wish she just stayed hot like before…

The Frighteners (1996) was exactly the kind of game-changing movie Michael J. Fox needed after playing just too many overly likable roles (Doc Hollywood, Back to the Future, Homeward Bound) or unconvincing shlubs (Life with Mikey, Greedy, The Hard Way).

It has an awesome, scary poster that reminded me of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).

Aaaand Jeffrey Combs (Lurking Fear) is in it! #Winning

The Craft (1996) was one of those films I thought was just plain perfect when I saw it in high school–yes, I’m that old.  It’s so great that it’s getting a remake!  Not that movies need to actually be good in the first place to earn a remake.

This film brought together a group of teen misfits with magic and levitation.

But power corrupts and Fairuza Balk gets crazy and we get a most excellent aerial catfight.

Thinner (1996)…I really loved this movie despite it’s incredibly lame script and acting.  It is, after all, a great Stephen King story.

Mob lawyer is really, really fat.

He accidentally kills the daughter of this scary gypsy from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

On this new diet he can eat whatever he wants and still waste away into nothing.

And this film features the absolute lamest threat via acid and deadly pie in film history!

Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996) brought a sense of 90s badness and style to Pinhead’s franchise.  It both went to space and presented three stories in an anthology.

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Our new Cenobite starlet was not goofy like her Hell on Earth predecessors
and the movie featured Adam Scott (Piranha 3D, Krampus)!

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Bordello of Blood (1996) was that bonkers-tastic Tales from the Crypt movie that we all know is bad, but we all know is AWESOME!  Let’s look at the facts, shall we…?

Angie Everhart gooily tears off heads and ends up covered in gore herself…

She turns into this ridiculous monster even sillier than anything from From Dusk ’til Dawn

and Corey Feldman becomes a vampire with an excellent hole in his chest!

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) is a remake of the 1977 classic of the same name.  Now I’ll admit I never saw the original, but it couldn’t have been as batshit crazy as this.

Some of the Moreau monsters are played by Ron Perlman and martial artist Mark Dacascos.
And the doctor/creator is played by Marlon Brando accompanied by the diminutive Nelson de la Rosa (to his left, below).
And oh my goodness…is Fairuza Balk in two movies on this list!?!?!

Mary Reilly (1996) is the serious choice for someone who simultaneously wants to watch a horror movie, but also wants to impress his/her friends or date with this deeper, more intellectual horror period piece.  I mean, it has Julia Roberts and John Malkovich.  No one can veto this simply on the basis of it representing the horror genre.  No…there’s more here.

Head of the Family (1996) is my “oh, crap, I need a 10th movie to round out this list” pick for 1996.  This zany film was really just a good excuse to show us ex-adult film star Jacqueline Lovell’s (Hideous!, The Killer Eye, Femalien) boobs…again…as she does in pretty much all of her Full Moon releases–and God bless her for that!  But honestly, this salty little flick was kind of like direct-to-video horror’s answer to the suburban pseudo-horror The ‘Burbs (1989).

If you enjoyed this weird article, please check out last year’s edition:
The Best Moments of one of the Worst Years in Horror: looking back 20 years to 1995
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Bad Movie Tuesday: The Quest (1996), Van Damme’s unofficial reimagining of Bloodsport as a period piece with strong Kickboxer influences and a sprig of Lionheart.

August 23, 2016

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MY CALL:  Much hokier than Bloodsport (1988), Kickboxer (1989) or Lionheart (1990), but with “some” better fighting, stunts and martial artists.  MOVIES LIKE The Quest:  Other Van Damme movies, of course!  Especially Bloodsport (1988) and Lionheart (1990), which both feature hush-hush Fight Clubs that can’t keep a secret.  But maybe this movie isn’t bad enough for you and you want something a bit more “campy bad.” If that’s the case, try China O’Brien (1990), Outside the Law (2002), Night Vision (1997) or Only the Strong (1993) for your Bad Movie Tuesday.

Okay, so this was actually written by the real life Frank Dux (the guy whose highly doubted story Bloodsport is based)—in that his “story” was the basis for it—and Jean-Claude Van Damme (Kickboxer, Double Impact, The Expendables 2, Time Cop, Bloodsport).  Somehow I don’t expect much from a movie written by a guy who (by the opinion of many) fabricated a story about winning an invitational secret Kumite tournament, and the Muscles from Brussels who played this potential Kumite tall tale teller.  Essentially, this is a fictionalized retelling of what may have originally been fiction in the first place and it’s directed by Van Damme himself.

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In case this Dux-slamming seems mean and unfounded, please understand that since the 1988 movie’s release his story has always been considered a highly probably lie.  Here’s an article (CLICK HERE) from 2015, and another, and another, and another way back from 1988, pointing out the inconsistencies and dubious claims.  Van Damme even doubted its validity while filming Bloodsport.

Well now that you know who wrote it, it should come as no surprise that this opens much as Bloodsport (1988) did, but with neither of the magic nor style, with preparations for the big secret tournament. They form melted gold into a dragon statue and send scrolled invitations in person to their recipient fighters, including interrupting a Sumo wrestler’s bath and a Nazi’s fencing lesson.  He’s not really a Nazi, but for some reason they make him seem despicably mean.
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Then we meet street urchin Chris Dubois (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who combines Oliver Twist’s Fagan and Robin Hood as he cares for a group of homeless orphan pickpockets.  Dubois is an acrobatic thief with some pretty decent fighting skills, but he is forced to flee and leave the kids when the consequences of his criminal actions catch up to him.  Of course, he promises the children he’ll be back.

During his escape he sneaks on to a ship and is taken prisoner.  He is rescued by Lord Edgar Dobbs (Roger Moore; A View to a Kill, Octopussy) and his assistant Harry (Jack McGee; Drive Angry), and subsequently ditched halfway around the world in on Muay Thai Island.

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So eventually a caption graces the bottom of the screen: “6 months later.”  Not sure how long it takes a small vessel to sail from northeastern America to Thailand or how long he was on Muay Thai Island before his “owner” decided to train him, but in combination it must’ve been 3-4 weeks.  Let’s call it a month—plus “6 months later” is about 7 months from the time the first Ghang-gheng (that’s our Kumite equivalent in this movie) invitations were sent out.  That’s a long time in advance to send out an RSVP.

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Revisiting Thailand, Lord Dobbs has made the acquaintance of an attractive young journalist Carrie (Janet Gunn; Carnosaur 3, Silk Stalkings) who is looking for a great story…just like Bloodsport…and they bump into Dubois, who has climbed the ranks and become a feared Muay Thai fighter.  In order to repay Dubois for wronging him, Dobbs is to help him gain the “Golden Dragon” from the tournament in the Lost City where the greatest fighters of the world compete in secret.  And again, just like in Bloodsport, there’s a secret competition that folks know about who weren’t invited!  In this case, it’s Dubois who wasn’t invited to the party. So how did he know?  When his trainer on Muay Thai Island was invited did he have a party to celebrate and announce it to everyone?  Did he tape the invitation on his Thai fighting office communal refrigerator as a reminder?  Does the whole island know?  Or are only their enslaved American fighters afforded such privileged secrecy?

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Well now Dobbs, Harry, Carrie and Dubois want to go to the Lost City…but how will they find it?  It is a secret, right?  No problem, after a single phone call Carrie knows that the invited World Champion boxer from America Maxie Devine (James Remar; Tale from the Darkside) is about to arrive right where they are in Thailand en route to the Lost City.  So evidently the first reporter she spoke to in America asking about the secret tournament knew not only that the tournament was happening, but who was invited and that he was on his way and his travel itinerary!  This takes place in 1920.  Even with the internet and phone taps this would be impressive!

So now the plan is for Dobbs, Harry, Carrie and Dubois to pose as Maxie’s hosting entourage to escort him to the Lost City.

Remember the “entering the tournament hall” scene in Bloodsport when everyone doubted the American fighter (now Maxie Devine), Dux did the Dim Mak (now the Mongolian breaking the table) and Chong Li had some words (now the Mongolian’s sneers)?  Yeah, so that all gets replayed here.

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So we’re all in the Lost City, whose “secret location” was most definitely aided by the huge German Zepplin flying in and landing on location, and it looks a lot like the Kickboxer (1989) arena with the Bloodsport officials.  This is where we get to meet everyone and Maxie outs Dubois as an imposter, to which the elder officials state that unless he “proves himself a worthy opponent” and wins the first round there will be some pretty serious consequences.  But wait, does this mean that everyone who loses in the first round—half the fighters!!!—is now categorized as “unworthy?”  Seems a bit harsh.  And moreover, now that we know Dubois and his gang are imposters, is no one concerned about Dobbs, Harry or Carrie (the fkn undercover reporter!!!)?  Isn’t this whole thing supposed to be a secret?  I’m beginning to think this is the first year of this tournament!

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You’ll notice a lot of these opponents have been in other Van Damme movies.  It seems Van Damme keeps a stable of friends like Adam Sandler, doesn’t he?  There’s the feared Mongolian Khan (Abdel Qissi; Lionheart, The Order), who seems way bigger than 6’2” the way they present him; Phang (Jen Sung; Under Siege 2) the Siamese fighter; another boringly unimpressive Sumo wrestler (Kitao Koji; Wrestlemania VII); the mean Nazi (Habby Heske; Mr. Nice Guy); the French fighter (Takis Triggelis; Legionnaire, Savate); the ripped Turkish guy who only landed one cheap hit and went down in one stupid hit; the sensational Brazilian capoeirista (César Carneiro; Only the Strong); the big Greek guy (Stefanos Miltsakakis; Cyborg, Lionheart, Maximum Risk); the stylish Spanish fighter (Peter Malota; Double Impact, Nowhere to Run, The Order) who looks a little like Antonio Banderas; the African Zulu-esque warrior (Winston Ellis; Operation Condor); that poor Okinawan (Ong Soo Han; Kickboxer, Street Fighter); the lame Russian (Brick Bronsky; Troma movies); the Scotsman (Mike Lambert; Knock Off) who gets it in the balls; and the Chinese five-animal kung fu master (Peter Wong; Bulletproof Monk) who was AMAZING!

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About now I’d like to pause and assess how we know this is a bad movie:

  1. Van Damme in old man make-up AND in mime make-up. Need I say more? screenshot2656screenshot26473

  2. There’s no chase scene, no training splits, no dressing like a male escort, no Belgian butt shot, no splits during a fight, no sex scene, no tandem jump spin kicks…where’s the Van Damme-iness we all came to love? At least his sweaty biceps glistened. But why did Van Damme sub in the Turk for the standard butt shot for the ladies? #BareButtFail
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  3. The old “Van Damme slip” escape scene. He does using the shower in Bloodsport (1988) and now he uses a sack of grain with his jacket wrapped around it.  This is some Bugs Bunny cartoon-level work.

  4. He is caught as a stowaway on a ship and is forced into servitude…just like in Lionheart (1990). How many of his old movies will he borrow from?

  5. After people from around the world visit the Lost City, is it still lost? I mean, these people suck at keeping secrets about secret martial arts tournaments.  So it’s fair to say that once they get back, the world will know.  And if the competition is always held in the Lost City, are we to assume that this was the first batch of competitors who can’t keep a secret?  After all, the invitation came with a map as if no one could ask how to get there.

  6. How heavy is the Golden Dragon…well over 1000 pounds, right? Gold is HEAVY! Today gold is about $1400 per ounce!  Can these Lost City monks afford to be giving away so much gold? That’s in the neighborhood of $20 million! tmb_1710_480

  7. They quote Bloodsport with the line: “What kind of a deal?”

  8. They steal the Kickboxer (1989) bar fight scene when he sweeps the guy’s hands from leaning on the table.

  9. Dubois’ fight against the Spanish fighter looked striking similar to Van Damme’s fight against the same exact actor in maybe the same shirt in Double Impact (1991)! v-poiskah-priklyuchenij (1)

  10. Maxie is basically a replacement for Bloodsport’s Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb; Transylvania 6-5000), only without the ‘Murica-level brain damage. Dobbs and Harry seem analogous to Agent Rawlins (Forest Whitaker; Species, Battlefield Earth) and Agent Helmer (Norman Burton; American Ninja 5, Deep Space), and Carrie is clearly Janice (Leah Ayres; The Burning).

  11. This martial arts movie transforms our hero into a serious fighter, yet there is no training montage. In Bloodsport we get a JCVD montage and an opponent training montage! How is there no training montage? #TrainingMontageFail

  12. Remember in Bloodsport how through its entirety Bolo Yeung’s lines were: “Very good, but brick not hit back…You are next…You break my record, now I break you like I break your friend…Matte.” Khan the Mongolian says even less! Not one line! And I’m not even kidding. He has zero lines!  Which makes me wonder if Qissi had any lines in Lionheart (1990) when he played Attila. the-quest-dvd-rip-xvid-rets-avi_snapshot_01-10-52_2012-01-22_21-22-20

  13. Dubois clutches Phang’s Muay Thai headdress like he did Ray Jackson’s Harley Davidson bandana after the Khan Tong-Po-back-breaks Phang like he did his brother in Kickboxer (1989). Then Dubois wears it, just like in Bloodsport. quest2

  14. They show some of the same fighting footage TWICE during Dubois’ fight against China! And then against Khan, they play the same punch combo footage FOUR TIMES!ecb54b5c71e452ffcbdb191a80e06df5 (1)

  15. What is it with Van Damme and back breaks? In Bloodsport the Sumo wrestler also performs TWO back-breaks, then Tong Po in Kickboxer, and now Khan does one here. ecf14a0c9a2b

  16. Dux finishes off Chong Li with four tandem jump skin kicks to the head, which is the only time replaying footage is okay. So where are the tandem jump spin kicks in The Quest?  Here we get only one in the final fight. ONE! #VanDammeFail
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For the most part, this is not a movie for technical fight choreography snobs who love Tony Jaa (Ong Bak), Scott Adkins (Universal Solder: Day of Reckoning), Michael Jai White (Undisputed 2-3) or Iko Uwais (The Raid: Redemption).  The fights are generally unimpressive by today’s standards, although quite decent outside of Hong Kong cinema in the 80s.  Although, a couple of fights were of higher caliber.

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The opening fights are terrible.  Spain v Russia and Japan v Okinawa are super short.  However, France v Brazil features some seriously cool stunts (especially for an American-made 90s martial arts movie) and China v Korea introduces us to the hands-down best martial artist in the movie, here showcasing snake-style kung fu.  Peter Wong’s opening flare techniques had me rewinding a few times just to figure out what exactly he did with that jump spin kick that included attacks to the front and the rear.  In Brazil v China, he does monkey-style kung fu—also a dazzling splendor of stunts, not to mention a playful monkey punch to a pair of Brazilian balls.

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I don’t think Van Damme likes Scotsmen (e.g., Lionheart).  Here the Scottish guy loses to a punch to the balls right under the kilt from the Turk.  In fact, someone always seems to get hit in the nuts (e.g., that Brazilian, Sumo wrestler in Bloodsport).  This Turk, by the way, looks like ripped Hank Azaria from The Birdcage (1996) and he goes down in the best possible stupid way against the Sumo wrestler. I think Van Damme ha a soft spot for Sumo wrestlers because they seem to get the funniest fights in his movies.

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Told you!

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And oh my God, the Kickboxer (1989) influences!  Khan the Mongolian has Tong Po hair, Phang taught Dubois Muay Thai and then loses to a back break against Mongolian, mathematically speaking Khan = Chong Li + Tong Po, Phang’s master Khao resembles Mr. Xian who trained JCVD in Kickboxer, the guy who played Khan is the brother of the guy who played Tong Po (Michel Qissi; Kickboxer, Bloodsport), and BOTH brothers were in Lionheart (1990)!

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I find this to be among the most recent Van Damme movies that I consider rewatchable.  It’s hokier than most, but still a lot of fun and nostalgically satisfying for me—of course, I saw this in theaters when I was 15, so I’m just the right age to love it.

If you enjoy this stuff, buy it, watch it, then join our nostalgia by listening to our Van Damme podcast episode!

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MFF 1996 Special: Life Lessons I learned From the Films of 1996

August 22, 2016

The cinema of 1996 taught me some very important life lessons. I learned that hockey players can become star golfers and aliens could be knocked out with one-punch. The films taught me everything I need to know about life and my 14-year-old self became a world weary adult after watching Beautiful Girls, From Dusk Til Dawn, Scream, Trainspotting, The Frighteners, Primal Fear and The People vs. Larry Flynt. 

The following post features 10 life lessons that the movies of 1996 taught me. These life lessons made me the man that I am today and I’m certain they can help everyone on the planet. Enjoy the post! You are welcome!

Never Leave a Ridiculous Amount of Voice Messages

I love Swingers. It taught me that I should never impulsively leave like a billion awkward voice mails on a women’s answering machine. Just stop at one! Wait a couple days! Be money!

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Never Let One of My Clones Clone Itself

You should never clone yourself. However, if you pull a Multiplicity and clone yourself don’t let your clone replicate itself. The results will be terrible and the dumb yet sweet clone will eat all your pizza and threaten dolphins.

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Show People Money

You gotta take care of your clients. In Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise learned that he needed to show his clients the money. When you show your clients the money they are guaranteed to be happy AND wins Oscars.

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Gum is Evil

If you’ve cornered a rogue spy and he pulls out gum be very scared. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) uses his evil exploding gum perfectly in Mission Impossible and forever changed the way our world views secret agent gum.

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Secure Cows When a Storm is Nigh

Do you like your cows? Do you pay attention to your cows? Do you want your cows to be carried away by a tornado? If you answered yes/yes/no then always make sure to secure them when a tornado is close. I love the movie Twister but I feel terrible for that cow. A dead cow became a punchline.

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Don’t be Cheeky When Naming Your Band

If you want to name your band The Wonders name it The Wonders. Don’t be cheeky and name your band The Oneders. Nobody will pronounce it right and you will be constantly correcting people. That Thing You Do! is the best.

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Never Trust a Bowler and his Unified Fund

Bowlers are shifty people (I have zero proof of this). The film Kingpin lets us in on the shady world of Unified Funds. Who knows where the money is going and what the bowlers are doing to single moms. Never trust Bill Murray when he is in bowler mode.

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The Drug Scene in Edinburgh isn’t Glamorous

My 14-year-old world was rocked when I learned that the drug scene in Edinburgh wasn’t glamorous. However, I did learn that the monologues are awesome. Watch Trainspotting now!

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Always Make Sure You Aren’t Entering an Ancient Temple Full of Vampires

I understand that criminals often make rash decisions when on the lam. However, they should always scout the locations before they enter them. A lot of problems would’ve been solved if the characters in From Dusk Till Dawn looked around the back of The Titty Twister to make sure they weren’t entering an evil temple full of vampires. Rookie criminal mistake.

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Small Town Missouri Musical Productions Can Go Terribly Awry 

Waiting for Guffman taught me that tiny musical productions can capsize quickly. If you are looking into musical theater make sure the director isn’t a maniac. Be wary of bastard people!

 

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