Thunderbolt (1995)

thunderbolt_1Thunderbolt [霹靂火] (1995)
AKA Dead Heat

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Yuen Wing-Yee, Michael Wong Man-Tak, Dayo Wong Chi-Wah, Thorsten Nickel, Ken Lo, Chor Yuen

Directed by Gordon Chan

Expectations: Very high!

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

Just the action:
threehalfstar


The one-two punch of Drunken Master II and Rumble in the Bronx is an incredibly tough act to follow, and Thunderbolt is not up to the challenge! Hahahaha, but really it’s kind of a mess of a movie. This is where your love of simple entertainment and Jackie Chan come in! By all normal metrics, Thunderbolt should be a disjointed failure, but it’s actually an entertaining, offbeat gem in the Jackie catalog. I enjoyed it so much as a teen that I actually thought showing it to my grandma was a great idea, choosing it specifically because I thought other, better films would be a harder sell. What’s funny is that re-watching the film now, I can kind of understand what I was thinking.

Thunderbolt continues the trend of Jackie Chan films attempting to appeal to the wider international audience, like Police Story III and Rumble in the Bronx. Thunderbolt goes a step further by limiting the martial arts and replacing it with cars, something more inclusive in a general sense than hand-to-hand fighting. The story retains a slight Hong Kong flavor, but overall the film barely feels like a Hong Kong production. It’s also more in the serious vein of Crime Story than the standard Jackie action comedy, thus avoiding some of the inherent cultural differences in humor. This is my long-winded way of saying that I must have thought my grandma would respond better to something a little closer in sensibility to US films than something like Drunken Master II. I was trying to ease her into the world of kung fu. Hahahaha… it didn’t work.

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Rumble in the Bronx (1995)

RumbleintheBronx_1Rumble in the Bronx [紅番區] (1995)

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Bill Tung, Francoise Yip, Marc Akerstream, Garvin Cross, Morgan Lam, Ailen Sit Chun-Wai, Kris Lord, Yueh Hua, Rainbow Ching Ho-Wai, Carrie Cain-Sparks

Directed by Stanley Tong

Expectations: Very high!

All things considered:
threestar

Just the action:
fourstar


If I had to point to a single movie that changed my life, it’s without a doubt Rumble in the Bronx. While I had seen some Bruce Lee films as a kid, Rumble in the Bronx was my first real taste of the Hong Kong movie. Even in its somewhat watered-down form as released in the US, the film completely and utterly destroyed my brain. I became immediately obsessed with Jackie Chan, to the point of not being able to watch American action films for years because they didn’t have the reckless, dangerous, “real-life” quality to the action that typifies the Hong Kong films of the ’80s and ’90s. This obsession even led me to dig deep into classic films, researching the work of Buster Keaton (a major influence on Jackie), which would eventually evolve all the way to me starting up this very blog as a way to express my unique and eclectic taste in film.

Roughly 20 years has passed by now, and re-watching Rumble in the Bronx for the first time in at least 10 years has given me a new understanding of the film (especially after reviewing my way up through Jackie’s filmography). I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed, or that it failed to live up to my personal legacy with it, but it definitely has its issues. I experienced a similar feeling when I reviewed Police Story III: Supercop, and within the films’ shared creative team the reasons for this emerge.

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Magic Island (1995)

magicisland_1Starring Zachery Ty Bryan, Andrew Divoff, Edward Kerr, Lee Armstrong, French Stewart, Jessie-Ann Friend, Oscar Dillon, Abraham Benrubi, Sean O’Kane, Schae Harrison, Ja’net DuBois, Terry Sweeney, Martine Beswick, Isaac Hayes

Directed by Sam Irvin

Expectations: Magic on an island.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
twostar


Going into a Moonbeam film, I’ve come to expect a few elements to almost always be present. Things like a trip back in time, a castle, and a kid with an absent or neglectful family, an obsession, and a desire to runaway. I didn’t actively think about these aspects when I started Magic Island, but they’re always hovering somewhere in mind whenever Moonbeam films come up. But get this… Magic Island breaks the mold! There isn’t a castle! It’s not even set in medieval times!

Magic Island is the story of Jack Carlisle (Zachery Ty Bryan of Home Improvement fame), a kid who loves video games, pirates and hard rock. His mother is a professional businesswoman up for a big promotion and all the money that goes with it. Jack isn’t impressed, because even though he’s 13 and he acts like he doesn’t care, it’s pretty plain that he’s lonely and in need of some parental attention and affection. Jack decides he’s had enough, so in preparation for running away he packs a bag with little more than some Rhino Bucket CDs and a Super Soaker. Only the essentials! His Haitian nanny (Ja’net DuBois) persuades him to stay home and have some of her jambalaya instead, also gifting him with a book called Magic Island that quickly sucks him inside its world of pirates and buried treasure.

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Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell (1995)

ghostintheshell_1Ghost in the Shell [攻殻機動隊 Kōkaku Kidōtai] (1995)
AKA Armored Riot Police

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ohtsuka, Iemasa Kayumi, Kōichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Tamio Ohki

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


It’s hard to imagine Ghost in the Shell as old. But here it is, nearly 20 years later, and the film still feels unrelentingly futuristic, far more than other science fiction films of the time like Total Recall, or even The Matrix which this film inspired. It probably has to do with Masamune Shirow, the series’s original creator, being so in touch with computer technology and engineering. Ghost in the Shell doesn’t just feel futuristic; it feels very real and absolutely believable. And that’s what makes it all the more frightening.

It isn’t a horror film by any means, but the concept of getting brainwashed by a computer hacker is scary as hell. We like to think of our souls, our personal identity, as something beyond the ability of others to touch, but not in this film. This is a future where your memories can be rewritten at any time, and “ghost hacking” is as common as computer viruses are today. For my money, that is far more frightening than any boogeyman jumping out of the shadows.

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Stephen reviews: Macross Plus: Movie Edition (1995)

macrossplus_1Macross Plus: Movie Edition [マクロスプラス MOVIE EDITION] (1995)

Starring Takumi Yamazaki, Unsho Ishizuka, Rika Fukami, Mako Hyodo, Megumi Hayashibara, Tomohiro Nishimura, Kenji Utsumi, Shou Hayami

Directed by Shoji Kawamori & Shinichiro Watanabe


Shoji Kawamori is more prolific as a mechanical designer than as a director. It’s been his primary job in dozens of anime, and he even designed several of the early Transformers toys. Directing on a frequent basis has been a fairly recent development in his career, and it was 10 years between his directorial debut, Macross: Do You Remember Love?, and this, his second time as director (unless you count the short film Flashback 2012, which was mostly compiled clips from the original Macross). And it’s a good thing he decided to get back into the game, because this is a complete reversal of the bland rehash that was Macross II. We’re also lucky to have it at all. Due to a nightmare of legal red tape, the only other Macross series to see an official, unedited release in America are Macross II and an absurdly overpriced version of the original TV series.

Macross Plus wasn’t without production quandaries, though. Kawamori couldn’t secure funding for the film version he intended it to be, so he had to make it as a four-part miniseries, releasing one episode at a time. Once the series was completed, he hacked huge chunks out, added a few new scenes, redid the voice acting (or perhaps just used alternate takes), and then rearranged what was left into this movie edition. Throughout high school, the series was my favorite anime by far, so the film version always feels odd to me. The acting seems off since it has different inflection than what I’m used to, and the events feel oddly displaced. It has, however, been a long time since I last watched either version, and that has given me the distance necessary to look at the movie edition with less clouded eyes and appreciate it more as its own work.

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Forgotten Silver (1995)

forgottensilver_1Starring Peter Jackson, Jeffrey Thomas, Costa Botes, Marguerite Hurst, Leonard Maltin, Johnny Morris, Sam Neill, John O’Shea, Lindsay Shelton, Harvey Weinstein, Thomas Robins, Beatrice Ashton, Peter Corrigan, Sarah McLeod

Directed by Peter Jackson & Costa Botes

Expectations: High. I love this.

threehalfstar


First Peter Jackson crafts the goriest film of all time, and then he follows it up with an Oscar-nominated indie drama. So what does he follow that up with? An incredibly enlightening documentary about a largely unknown figure in the history of film, that’s what. Forgotten Silver chronicles the quest of Peter Jackson and Costa Botes to uncover the legend of late New Zealand filmmaker Colin McKenzie, probably the most important figure in early film history.

Psych!

Ideally, it’d be best to see Forgotten Silver with no knowledge that it isn’t real, because directors Peter Jackson and Costa Botes have pulled off one hell of a sustained illusion. I did notice one overt clue for knowledgeable film fans (a Russian interviewee named “Alexandra Nevsky”), but even if you miss that one it’d be hard not to miss just how over-the-top and wild the life of Colin McKenzie is made out to be. For instance, after some stories of how Colin built his first camera onto his bicycle (and therefore created the first tracking shot), we’re told that he also made his own film stock, with an emulsion layer made of egg whites. CUT TO: a newspaper clipping that reads: “2000 Eggs Stolen.”

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Judge Dredd (1995)

Judgedredd_1Starring Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Rob Schneider, Jürgen Prochnow, Max von Sydow, Diane Lane, Joanna Miles, Joan Chen, Balthazar Getty, Maurice Roëves, Ian Dury

Directed by Danny Cannon

Expectations: Really low. I remember this being pretty awful.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


In the Third Millennium, the world changed. Climate. Nations. All were in upheaval… The Earth transformed into a poisonous scorched desert, known as “The Cursed Earth.” Millions of people crowded into a few Mega Cities where roving bands of street savages created violence the justice system could not control. Law as we know it collapsed. From the decay rose a new order. A society ruled by a new elite force… a force with the power to dispense both justice and punishment… They were the police, jury and executioner all in one. …They were the Judges.

You pumped? Seriously, this movie has so much going for it. Of course, there’s one of my all-time favorite action stars, Sylvester Stallone, cranking out all kinds of awesome crooked mouth yells. It also has dope robots, a cyborg who’s a member of a hillbilly desert cannibal family, and massive explosions. And let’s not forget about the kick-ass, flying future cycles, the cloning (and the incredible half-cloned, skinless dudes!) and Jurgen Prochnow’s German accent. And the villain’s name is Rico! C’mon! Judge Dredd is a perfect big-budget B-Movie. I know this isn’t a position many will agree with or defend, but I can’t help it if I like this kind of dumb stuff, can I?

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