Saturday, June 24, 2023

Junesploitation 2023 Day 24: '80s Action!


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      Inner city factory owner Jack Murphy (Gregory Cummins, "Cliffhanger") and a handful of his most loyal employees (including a blind man) are caught between an unjust order by the city to relocate to "They Live!"-type shanty towns or facing roaming gangs of motorcycle-riding thugs led by Maximum (Robert Z'Dar, "Samurai Cop") who take whatever they want. We're supposed to sympathize with Jack taking a stand to defend the factory he inherited from his father against Maximum, when in reality the former's putting everybody that enters the what-the-hell-do-they-even-make-in-this-empty-industrial-warehouse building at risk. A sexy reporter (Christine Lunde) ends up supporting Murphy after trying to score a scoop, which doesn't please the police chief (TV veteran Dennis Cole). Great synth score by Brian Scott Bennett (the closest "Dead End City" comes to matching Carpenter's "Assault" in quality) and some inspired moments of lunacy (topless strip show in the sewers?!), but ultimately undone by seen-it-better-elsewhere lame shooting action beats (Stormtrooper disease runs rampant among Maximum's thugs) and many off-screen deaths of likable characters (the hell??!!). You could do lots worse for Junesploitation! but also much, much better. 3 PEPSI MACHINES USED AS DOOR SHIELDS (out of 5).

      Roberta Findlay's GAME OF SURVIVAL, aka TENEMENT (1985, TUBI)

      Imagine "Death Wish 3" (both movies were released in '85) without Charles Bronson to save the day and soaked-to-the-bone in "Savage Streets"-style depravity. Helmed by a notorious exploitation female director ("Altar of Lust") and rated 'X' for violence (which TUBI now rates as a 'TV-14' :-O), "Tenement" is primo J! fodder that is rough viewing despite venturing deep into The Bronx's urban decay (which makes 80's Times Square look like Disneyland) for a night of terror for the residents of a lone, isolated apartment building. A drunk superintendent fingers a gang of drug-dealing thugs that's squatting in the basement to NYPD cops, who arrest them but soon after lets them free for lack of evidence. [PERSONAL NOTE: at 8:11 we see the gang leaving the Bronx police precinct building... but it's actually the police precinct of the neighborhood where I live (Harlem). :-D I walk in front of that precinct every time I go to the AMC theater two blocks away, which when this was filmed hadn't been built.] While the tenants celebrate that the gang has left the building the bad guys sneak into the basement, collect their hidden stash and start going up one floor at a time, exacting bloody retaliation until the tenants left alive band together to try and "Home Alone" their way out (boiling water, tricked-out refrigerators, electrified bed springs, etc.).

      The way Findlay shoots the more vicious gang members (Ozu-style, first-person close-ups as they growl, kill or rape directly at the viewer) makes it clear this movie is personal for her. More urban decay terror/survival horror than action (lots of innocent people die and/or are brutally raped), "Tenement" has a rawness and exploitation moxy that I appreciate. The apartments look like places in the Bronx I've visited (then and now) to see friends and/or family, the no-name cast look like normal people of all ages, sexes, creeds, etc. that lived in those neighborhoods, and the 'life is cheap and nobody cares about us' civilian plight worthy of Italian cinema cynicism. But this is exploitation cinema, so of course the worse of the worse (Enrique Sandino's 'Chaco') needs lightning to strike him dead during a rainy storm (even though exterior shots of the building show no rain) because 80's morality. A Junesploitation! smorgasbord. 4 GRANNIES DANGLING FROM A ROPE (out of 5).

  2. 80s action! Hell yeah. I loooooooove Junesploitation! Only wish I had more time today.

  3. Slipstream (1989)

    I cannot really say that I recommend this movie, to be completely honest. It’s not nearly as campy as I wanted it to be, the VHS quality on Tubi leaves a lot to be desired, and it all but wastes Ben Kingsley, Robbie Coltrane, and F. Murray Abraham, among others.

    But it does feature a long-haired Bill Paxton as the good guy and a bleach-blonde Mark Hamill as the bad guy, so if you’ve made it this far in Junesploitation, that might be all you need.

  4. Mission Thunderbolt (1983)

    A cut and paste — I mean, Godfrey Ho’s name is all over his — of new footage with the movie Don’t Love Any Stranger, this starts with a couple making love before she slices his throat with a razor. Then, two women are sight-seeing before a gang attacks them.

    There are two gangs in Hong Kong, the Serpents and the Scorpions. Interpol is on the case, sending an agent who targets a boss and pitting gang against gang.

    We then go to a karaoke bar where Allison sings “Mickey.” The Mickey you’re so fine song, copyright be damned, this is, again, Godfrey Ho. She’s really there to find out who killed her friend Rosie, which means working in a hostess club owned by Scorpions leader Phoenix. A fight breaks out and the once cheerful singer shreds a man’s face before bonding with Phoenix, who decides to tell her how she got to her position, which mostly involved killing every man that wronged her. Now, she’s at war with the Serpents and their boss Hercules.

    There’s also The White Tycoon, who has hired three secret agents — including the aforementioned blonde woman, who is the best part of this, killing numerous marks every time she appears on screen — to sow dissension between the gangs. He also likes to sacrifice chickens to increase his power before he fights the secret agent, who finds him by torturing the blonde woman by placing her face first in an oil drum, adding a rat and then throwing in a cat. And he’s the good guy, but as I’ve learned from Godfrey Ho movies, the good guys are allowed to torture people.

    You know, these movies are all flowing together in my brain and now I have so many Thunderbolt-named movies: Majestic Thunderbolt, Scorpion Thunderbolt, Ninja Thunderbolt, Ninja Operation 4:Thunderbolt Angels, Inferno Thunderbolt and Mission Thunderbolt. I plan on watching them all, but there are times that between the fact that they are two movies at the same time and that they all flow together, they put me into a near-murderdrone drug state.

    Which is why I am watching them.

    I honestly have no idea what is happening in this movie for a lot of the time, but of all the Godfrey Ho movies that I have seen, this one looks the best quality wise.

  5. Sharky's Machine (1981, dir. Burt Reynolds)

    Burt Reynold's is Sharky and the Machine is his crew of vice cops. I really enjoyed this movie as well as Burt's direction. The most enjoyable scenes for me where just hanging out with the crew while they are working (and a lot of the dialogue was apparently improvised and feels real). Burt allows his character to be vulnerable, make mistakes, lose fights, etc. But Henry Silva steals the show as the maniacal assassin Billy Score, who cannot function unless he's out of his mind on PCP. Also something I love from '80s action movies: I timed it: the duration between the final villain's death and the end credits is twelve seconds. Twelve! Highly recommended.

    1. I'm watching MALONE for my '80s action pick but SHARKY'S MACHINE just might be my favorite Burt. Top 5 for sure.

    2. Wow that is high praise. Malone is also awesome. Burt Rules.

  6. Runaway Train (1985)

    Everytime I watch a movie with Jon Voight, I'm like, damn, I love Jon Voight.

  7. BORN TO FIGHT (1989, d. Bruno Mattei)
    First-time watch on Severin BluRay, 7/10.
    It's obvious that Werner Herzog ripped this one off when he made LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY. My proof? The guy playing the German colonel of the Vietnamese army is played by WERNER Pochath.
    A spaghetti-verde Rambosploitation picture, BORN TO FIGHT shares it's name with a more exciting Thai flick from '84, but who cares. This flick is easy fun with explosions, a confusing bit of extortion-plot, gunfire, explosions, slow-mo yelling, explosions & gunfire.

  8. RUNNING SCARED (1986)
    Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines play wisecracking Chicago cops who want to retire and move to Key West, only to run afoul of a powerful drug lord. There's some fun action beats, including a car chase on elevated train tracks, while Billy Crystal speaks in classic Billy Crystal-isms throughout. I suppose you would have called this "mid-budgeted" or "a programmer" back in the day, except there's a ton of talent on display, and the location filming gives the whole thing a lived-in feel. Great movie!

    Everybody's talking about Indy these days, so why not? I love this movie dearly. It's a total banger, fast-paced with one memorable set piece after the next, but also a strong emotional core to the plot, with Indy and his dad. I'm left to wonder, though, what is this movie's legacy? The first is the classic, the second is the dark/weird one, the fourth is the lag-behind, so what does that make LAST CRUSADE? The one that's... also good? I don't know.

  9. Shakedown a.k.a. Blue Jean Cop (1988, dir. James Glickenhaus)

    A public defender working his last days before starting a lucrative corporate job (Peter Weller) and a renegade undercover cop (Sam Elliott) team up to investigate (and then eradicate) corruption in the police department.

    The script is gloriously dumb and all over the place, but on the other hand Sam Elliott kills a guy by derailing a rollercoaster and then hangs on to an airborne plane's landing gear before blowing the plane up with a grenade.

    Plus I could listen to Elliott's voice for days. My favorite scene: Elliott, totally straight-faced, tells an insane story about accidentally killing his girlfriend's dog.

  10. Is that Reb Brown in the picture?

    WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE (1987, dir. Gary Sherman)

    Rutger Hauer is a bounty hunter in then-contemporary Los Angeles trying to track down an Arab terrorist, portrayed by Gene Simmons. Oh, the director made the sleazy exploitation classic Vice Squad. A film that begins well, with Hauer capturing a very nasty fugitive, evolves into a nondescript action film that is watchable but had potential to be better. Maybe a more streamlined plot would have helped, or Simmon’s character could have been more over-the-top. In any case, Rutger Hauer is a great presence in any film he is in.

  11. THE FEMALE EXECUTIONER (1986, d. Michel Caputo)
    First-time watch on Severin BluRay, 7/10.
    French porn director Caputo enlists French porn star Brigitte Lahaie to play a cop hunting down a porn ring in this sleazy, non-porn actioner. A notorious scarfaced woman is having young ladies kidnapped to be sold. She also heads up the aforementioned smut ring that handles all the kinks, legal & not. A gruff, gun-happy cop gets involved with Lahaie as the tangled web of crime gets stickier. She won’t use a gun, but what if things get personal? What if someone on the inside is keeping ol’ scarface out of trouble? Caputo & company offer entertaining euro-trash with hot tubs scenes, sex scenes, a porno shop, the Chinese, merciless killings & sleazeball thug Richard Lemieuvre (LA FEMME-OBJET) getting handsy.

  12. Action Jackson (1988)

    Carl Weathers shows he’s got the juice to carry a movie, but he also has plenty of help from a strong supporting cast: Craig T. Nelson, Bill Duke, Robert Davi, pre-Total Recall Sharon Stone, former Prince protege Vanity (who I actually quite enjoyed here and was surprised to learn her performance was widely panned). It’s got everything you could want from an over the top 80s action movie: fistfights, shootouts, one-liners, a stern commanding officer, a villain doing karate, a night club singer in distress, people getting stabbed, people jumping out of windows, people going up in flames, cars smashing through walls and even going up the stairs. Last but not least, Weathers gets many chances to show off his impressive physique. What’s not to love?

  13. The Best of the Best (1989)

    I thought it was pretty bad, but also very watchable. I wonder if it's impossible to make a fight tournament movie that isn't at least a little fun to watch...

  14. Die Hard (1988)

    I'm here to assure everyone that the greatest action movie, and my all-time favorite, remains perfect. What I love about Die Hard is its ability increase the tension with every act. Every small victory McClane has comes with a cost. The script sets up a dozen pieces, the explosives on the roof, the FBI meddling, McClane vs. Karl, and violently shoves them all together. Almost certainly my favorite 3rd act of any movie. I cannot wait to watch it again in like 3 months.

  15. Tango & Cash (1989)

    FthisMovieFest a few years back was my introduction to Tango & Cash. I think this was my first rewatch since then, and while it didn't shine quite as brightly for me (the FtMF bump is real), I still had a lot of fun with it. It feels like a script with some mediocre-bordering-on-bad plot and dialogue, but Kurt and Sly are so charismatic and committed to the movie's over-the-top (no pun intended) tone that they elevate it to something fun rather than something stupid.

  16. JAKE SPEED (1986, d. Andrew Lane)
    First-time watch on Arrow BluRay, 7/10.
    This is a great example of a movie I'd call 'off'. The designation isn't actually a measure of whether the movie is good, bad, enjoyable or a miserable failure. It just seems to be aiming for something that it doesn't quite accomplish, but in a slightly more esoteric manner than, say, an unfunny comedy.
    A character featured in pulp novels turns up to help Karen Kopins when her sister is kidnapped. He sidekick (Dennis Christopher) makes some cryptic remarks & signs point to the African adventure embarked upon being fuel for the next book. But it's really happening. Right? There's an obvious layer of meta-spoofage going on, but the tone is, well, off. Everything picks up when a villainous John Hurt shows up. This is either a terrible flop or a fun way to get rid of all those limited edition potato chip flavors that've been clogging up your pantry. I don't think this is good, but it was relaxing in some unusual way.
    The real bit of intrigue is that, given various aspects of how JAKE SPEED plays out, it came out the same year as LABYRINTH. Both are fantasies about a dark-haired woman lost on an inscrutable adventure to rescue a kidnapped sibling. JAKE is for the INDIANA JONES household, while LABYRINTH is obviously the David Bowie household.
    Movies are great.

    1. I was happy to be the 666th LBXd user to watch this.

  17. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

    Jack Burton, with his swaggering all-American John Wayne bravado, comes off as both a clumsy, ineffective white interloper AND a cool-ass dude. The movie's ability to give both those impressions at once is, to me, its most impressive feat. Plus it's just a nonstop bonkers action fest.

  18. KICKBOXER (1989)
    dir. David Worth & Mark DiSalle

    fight scenes choreographed and directed by Jean Claude Van Damme

    The splits pulley!
    The tree kick!
    Underwater kicks!
    The broken glass gloves!
    But none of it matches the tank top drunk dancing!!!!!!!!

    “Watch your wallet.”
    “She doesn’t want my wallet. She wants to make it with the champ.”

  19. Magnificent Warriors (aka Dynamite Fighters)- 1987, dir. David Chung

    Cinematographer David Chung directed a pair of kickass actioners starring Michelle Yeoh, the first being the modern police vs terrorists blast ‘Royal Warriors’, and the second being this period adventure about a group of Chinese agents attempting to thwart the takeover of a small province by the invading Japanese army. Often described as the Honk Kong ‘Indiana Jones’ (set in the 1930s, Yeoh rocks a leather jacket and whips around a rope dart at goons) this early breakout role was a great showcase for Yeoh’s charm, action prowess, and ability to hold the movie’s focus in her palm.

    The humor largely works thanks to Yeoh’s unflappable confidence and the great Richard Ng playing a scum bum con artist. That said, I can’t tell if MORE comedy would’ve sent the movie into overdrive (specifically adding John Sham, the “Hardy” to Ng’s “Laurel”) or if the movie works specifically because it only leans on the comedy to the degree it does. Or maybe it’s the right balance because the cowardly province ruler played by composer Lowell Lo is also a hapless moron throughout. Either way, why am I complaining about a movie that’s completely functional and fun as hell? The action rocks. It’s big, visceral, and you can feel the heat coming off every explosion. The plane chase is fun. The villager’s rebellion during the big climax is epic. Go watch it.

  20. FIRECRACKER (1981, dir. Cirio H. Santiago)

    This Filipino exploitation action film is one of the best viewing experiences of the month. Susanne (Jillian Kesner) goes to The Philippines looking for her sister, a reporter who disappeared while looking for scoop on the drugs trade. Susanne will go undercover to find out the truth, giving plenty of excuses to show some of the most awkward fights scenes I have watched in a long time. Kesner, however, is surprisingly good in those scenes. A martial arts club that stages fights to the death, weird tonal shifts, and a frequently inappropriate synthesizer score add to the fun.