True Lies (1994)

trueliesStarring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton, Tia Carrere, Art Malik, Eliza Dushku, Grant Heslov, Charlton Heston, Marshall Manesh

Directed by James Cameron

Expectations: High. Haven’t since this in a long time.

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True Lies is an interesting entry in the Arnold filmography for me. It’s one that I watched a gazillion times on VHS in the ’90s, but since I hit adulthood I’ve never even had the urge to re-watch it. I would often think back fondly on it, but unlike something like Predator, where a primal “MUST WATCH” urge overtakes me every once in a while, I’ve never longed to see True Lies again. And now that I’ve re-watched it, why I felt this way about True Lies is readily apparent: I’ve already seen it too many times to truly enjoy it.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Harry Tasker, an international spy working for the Omega Branch, an ultra-secret arm of the US government focused on counter-terrorism. His wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), is completely oblivious to this, firmly believing Harry’s cover-up story that all those late nights and weekend trips are diligently spent working at his computer sales job. Meanwhile, an Arab terrorist group called Crimson Jihad is up to no good, and before too long these three main components of the film all crash together with some big ol’ James Cameron action sequences.

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My Lucky Stars (1985)

MyLuckyStars+1985-118-bMy Lucky Stars [福星高照] (1985)
AKA Winners & Sinners 2, Winners & Sinners 2: My Lucky Stars, Tokyo Powerman

Starring Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Eric Tsang, Richard Ng, Charlie Chin Chiang-Lin, Stanley Fung Sui-Fan, Sibelle Hu Hui-Zhong, Walter Tso Tat-Wah, James Tin Jun, Lam Ching-Ying, Bolo Yeung

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: Fun.

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Like Winners & Sinners before it, My Lucky Stars is much more of a Sammo Hung movie than it is a Jackie Chan movie. It’s also much more of a comedy than an action movie. There’s nothing wrong with either distinction, but it’s good to know what you’re in for, especially considering that I imagine the majority of people watching this (at least in the West) are watching for the action. You’ll get your action, and it will be glorious and accompanied by some truly fantastic stunts, but you’ll have to be patient.

Well — you’ll have to be patient after the first few minutes, where the film explodes into action by throwing both Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao into a car chase that leads to an amusement park. They are cops in hot pursuit of some devious criminals, but by the time they’ve jumped their car over a semi-truck and the traffic that impedes them, the criminals have already ditched their car and sought refuge in the crowds of a nearby amusement park. You or I might wander around the park, hoping to get lucky and spot the criminals, but Jackie makes a truly inspired move towards higher ground by nonchalantly scaling the structural supports of the Ferris wheel.

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Transformations (1988)

Transformations-1Transformations (1988)
AKA Alien Transformations

Starring Rex Smith, Lisa Langlois, Patrick Macnee, Christopher Neame, Michael Hennessy, Cec Verrell, Benito Stefanelli, Donald Hodson, Pamela Prati, Ann Margaret Hughes, Loredana Romito

Directed by Jay Kamen

Expectations: Moderate, but it’s ’80s so it’ll have cool FX work, right?

On the general scale:
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On the B-movie scale:
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I often say, “The future is now,” because I’m so amazed with technology and how different things have become since my youth. But now I feel cheated because in the version of the future shown in Transformations, everyone drinks out of glasses with neato twisty straws built into them. It’s really quite impressive, but like any great advancement for humanity such as this, we must also deal with the ever increasing dangers of the world. And in this version of the future, humanity’s greatest threat is a ferocious alien demon STD that transforms its host into a gooey, hairy monstrosity that conveniently has the power to transform itself into an object of desire to lure its next victim into bed.

This is exactly what happens to our main character, a rollicking space smuggler named Han Solo Wolfgang Shadduck (Rex Smith), but you can call him Wolf. He’s been flying around the galaxy alone for far too long, and it’s his birthday. His friends from Earth have sent a video message and apparently planted a present on-board before he left. They won’t tell him where it is, instead they just scream “TREASURE HUNT!” and laugh. So when a beautiful woman appears at his cabin door, he assumes she’s his StripperGram present, ignoring all logic and assuming she’s been hiding in a cargo locker surviving on nutritional paste all this time. But whatever, this is a horror movie, and what’s a horror movie without a dumb character doing something dumb to allow the audience to have some horrific fun?

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Call to Arms (1973)

CalltoArms+1973-47-bCall to Arms [盜兵符] (1973)

Starring Chung Wa, Ha Faan, Cheung Ban, Wang Hsieh, Chan Shen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ku Wen-Chung, Teresa Ha Ping, Tung Li, Bolo Yeung, Cheng Miu, Lee Wan-Chung, Shum Lo, Wang Kuang-Yu, Yau Ming, Ho Wan-Tai, Tong Tin-Hei, Liu Wai

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: Moderately high. Shen Chiang usually delivers something entertaining.

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Right before I started Call to Arms, I pulled up its page on the HKMDB. I often do this with these mid-tier Shaw Brothers films, as it helps me keep more accurate notes about the characters and actors. Anyway, when I did this I caught a glimpse of the film’s poster, which is about as exciting as a page of text from a history textbook. It’s not exactly the type of marketing I expect a martial arts film to have, and it was my first clue that Call to Arms would be a different type of Shaw film.

It’s a good thing that I had this clue going into the film, otherwise I might have been quite disappointed with what I got. Call to Arms is much more of a historical epic than it is a martial arts action picture, and it’s within this distinction that the film ends up being sorta mediocre. The story, while dense and filled with intrigue, isn’t the most interesting and it’s also fairly hard to follow. Thankfully, the fights are fun and exciting, but they aren’t fun or exciting enough to make up for the story. I would like to note that fans of Chinese history, who come to the film with a better understanding of the country’s warring states period, will more than likely get more out of the story than I did.

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The Expendables 3 (2014)

the-expendables-3-posterStarring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Ivan Kostadinov, Robert Davi

Directed by Patrick Hughes

Expectations: Low, but hopeful.

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There’s no doubt that Expendables 3 received the worst critical reception of the franchise, and the general Internet scuttlebutt seemed to agree that Expendables 3 was bad. I let this influence me, and I pushed back seeing the film into the dreaded “sometime.” But now I have seen Expendables 3 and I can say without a hint of sarcasm or hyperbole that it is a great entry into the series. I love JCVD too much for it to surpass the 2nd film, but I definitely prefer it to the original. I’m curious what people didn’t like about it, actually. It’s basically just like the other two, only with even more people. And this one actually has some heart, too! [Note: The original two may have heart of their own, but I haven’t seen them in three years and all I remember are the cameos and the explosions.]

Storywise, this one is a bit convoluted to explain quickly due to its structure. It’s not actually convoluted, it’s just one of those movies with a slowly unfolding story that is easy to spoil if you break it down into a synopsis. So suffice it to say: there’s a bad guy that has done some evil shit, and Stallone and a varied cast of his Expendable buddies will be along for the ride to take him down. Besides, if you’re even remotely interested in this movie, that’s all you need to know. Are there explosions? Yes. Does Stallone & crew kick ass? Yes. Ticket sold. If you’re not that person and you’re still watching these movies, you might want to re-think your life because you’re clearly unable to learn from past mistakes.

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Skeletons (1997)

skeletons_5Starring Ron Silver, Christopher Plummer, Dee Wallace, Kyle Howard, James Coburn, Arlene Golonka, D. Paul Thomas, Paul Bartel, David Graf, Patrick Thomas, Clive Rosengren, Raymond O’Connor, Kathleen Noone

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
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If you know the name David DeCoteau, it’s probably because you watch B-Movies. Trashy B-Movies. Skeletons, though, is easily the most respectable and “normal people” friendly DeCoteau film I’ve seen, while also still feeling like he was the guy calling the shots. It’s impressive how his style is still able to filter through, and I wonder what might have been if someone had been gung-ho enough to throw a huge studio picture his way. I doubt we’ll ever find out what that would be like, but thankfully if you dig his style he’s incredibly prolific — for instance, he directed eight films in 2014!

Skeletons centers around a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, Peter Crane (Ron Silver), who suffers a heart attack. He takes the advice of his wife, Heather (Dee Wallace), and they pull up stakes to get the family out of the rough-and-tumble big city. They land in Saugatuck, Maine, a small town with a population of 850. It is the quintessential small town: everyone is super friendly, they all know each other, and they all worship at the same church run by Rev. Carlyle (Christopher Plummer).

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The Champion (1973)

TheChampion+1973-57-bThe Champion [豪客] (1973)
AKA Shanghai Lil and the Sun Luck Kid, Karate King, Chivalrous Guest

Starring Chin Han, Shih Szu, Lung Fei, Yee Yuen, Shut Chung-Tin, Lee Wai, Chi Fu-Chiang, Cheng Fu-Hung, Hsieh Hsing, Chan San-Yat, Blacky Ko Sau-Leung

Directed by Chu-Got Ching-Wan & Yeung Jing-Chan

Expectations: Not much, even though I like Shih Szu a lot.

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The Champion is probably better known by its US release title, Shanghai Lil and the Sun Luck Kid, but neither title really fits this rather mediocre martial arts movie. I guess Chan Han’s character could be considered a champion of the persecuted coal miners in the film, but since the miners are nothing more than shirtless extras pushing mine carts even this is something of a stretch. In any case, just know not to expect any kind of tournament or competition, and definitely don’t look forward to the adventuresome buddy picture that Shanghai Lil and the Sun Luck Kid suggests.

In actuality, The Champion is about Lu Fu (Chin Han), an innocent man recently released from prison after serving a term in the place of his brother. In the three years that Lu Fu has spent locked up, his brother Lu Tei Pao (Lung Fei) has taken over the coal mine, which in effect means that he is in control of the entire village. He is a ruthless man who purposefully set up his brother to get him out of the way, and I think he also killed his parents shortly thereafter. Not that it really matters, but the storytelling isn’t the clearest about that last bit. What does matter is that Tei Pao wants Lu Fu dead now that he’s out of prison, and the repeated attempts on his life from Tei Pao’s various lackeys is what makes up the majority of The Champion.

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