A look back at how ‘The Ice Pirates’ deserves an honored space in the ultimate sci-fi comedy genre.
The 1970s and 1980s gave us a whole bunch of ultimate Sci-Fi comedies such as Dark Star and Buckaroo Banzai that were full of wacky humor and an anything goes attitude. The Ice Pirates ranks high up there with them, and it also delivered the goods on the action front. While it seems easy to write the film off as a Star Wars and Flash Gordon parody it is not just a spoof but has a fun story to tell, so let’s have a look!
Jason (Robert Urich) and his crew roam space to rid cargo ships of water, the most precious resource in the universe after the water wars. During a raid, they capture Princess Karina (Mary Crosby), who takes the pirates on an adventurous search for the mythical seventh water planet, with the space Templars of the galactic dictatorship chasing after them.
Spring Water! I Can Smell it From Here
Not spice, but ice is the rarest and most valuable material in the galaxy, and in view of the looming water crisis on our planet in our time the Ice Pirates became a truly prophetic film. Nah, I’m just kidding, it’s all big nonsense, but still a cool premise. Director and writer Stewart Raffill made the semi-Sci-Fi classic The Philadelphia Experiment in 1984, but it looks like he also needed an outlet for his more crazy ideas, and in the same year he made The Ice Pirates.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of what awaits you in this film: medieval knights, cowboys and pirates with laser pistols, Sleeping Beauty in space, amazons on unicorns, a robot pimp, lascivious frog women, a castration and lobotomization factory, and a spaceship with Herpes. I enjoyed the film’s humor, as it relentlessly exploits the absurdity of the numerous outrageous situations the pirates find themselves in. The best part may be the clumsy and cowardly droids which usually find themselves at the center of many practical jokes.
Depravity in Zero Gravity
The initial 20 million USD budget apparently was scrapped to a mere 8 million USD, so the crew improvised as much as they could to still put together a consistent production, and they succeeded with much creativity. The special effects are on the lower side of the budget spectrum, and even though they can’t hold a candle to Star Wars, they are inventive such as when an actual space battle is fought like a Space Invaders game on a computer screen. The costumes are spot on: space pirates look like pirates, and space amazons look like amazons. It’s a beautifully chaotic mix and makes for some totally wild visuals.
The cast is perfectly tuned in to the vibe of the film. Robert Urich gives a campy impression of Han Solo, his crew mate Anjelica Huston is suave and bad-ass, and her costume looks like art from the scrapyard. And John Matuszak (Sloth from The Goonies) shows his comedic side as a muscled but soft-spoken hustler.
The Ship Just Got Herpes!
Just like in any good pulp story, things take turns abruptly. The bad guys usually show up without warning and then it’s havoc time! The quality of the action sequences is not on the level of an A-list action flick, but Rafill put as much mayhem on the screen as possible considering the budget issues.
Axes, swords, and laser pistols are put to use frequently in the many skirmishes unfolding in the space ship corridors. There’s a fantastic chase sequence through the desert between a pirate buggy and a bounty hunter rig stacked with space vikings, and a hilarious time-bending finale where everyone ages 50 years during battle.
Rafill orchestrated a swashbuckling space opera of joyful madness that is in tongue-in-cheek mode every second. The Ice Pirates has not a single dull moment, and rightfully earned its place in the Sci-Fi Comedy Hall of Fame.
Ranking the most ultimate post-apocalyptic action movies of all time!
Imagining what the world would look like after a global natural disaster, a deadly pandemic, or a nuclear war, should be a very discomforting thought. And yet it has fascinated humanity for a long time, and the entertainment industry also contemplated aplenty on it. After all, a world with no rules, populated with murderous bandits and bloodthirsty mutants, is the perfect playground for exciting adventures and relentless action! In this list, we present you our choice of the 20 most ultimate post-apocalyptic action movies!
The fourth installment of the Terminator franchise showed us what happened after Skynet’s victory over humanity. John Connor (Christian Bale) and the mysterious loner Marcus (Sam Worthington) see their fate intertwined on a mission to save Kyle Reese (Connor’s father in the past) from the machines. The best thing about the film is that it creates the post-apocalyptic world in perfect detail, and impressively visualizes the state of constant warfare in this desolate world.
Pretty much everything else is a failure, be it the generic characters, the uninteresting plot, and embarrassing action sequences. Director McGee emulated Transformers and created a soulless CGI fest featuring ludicrous mega-Terminators that release motorcycles from their legs. Terminator: Salvation is a pale shadow of the previous Terminator entries, but as action fast food it’s worth at least a single watch.
The adaptation of the cult comic book flick gave us plush helmets and the cutest tank in movie history. Rebecca’s (Lori Petty) life gets turned upside after her cozy wasteland villa is destroyed by goons of the tyrannic Water and Power corporation. Rebecca steals a tank and sets out so set things right for the free people.
A punk vibe (and soundtrack) permeates the whole film as it tells the classic story about the fight of free spirits vs. an evil corporation. With its coarse humor, chaotic dialogues and sassy characters, the film indulges a bit too much in its attitude rather than telling a compelling story. The action also lacks a bit of oomph, and sometimes feels like a fizzled parody of the genre. Despite these flaws, Tank Girl is a great early entry to feminist action cinema and a happy acid trip.
The live-action adaptation of the popular manga put a big spotlight on its star Gary Daniels and his martial arts skills. Kenshiro (Daniels) travels through a post-nuclear world to take down the leader of tyrannical clan Southern Cross Shin, who killed Kenshiro’s father. Director Tony Randel created an awesome visual mix, combining the classic post-apocalyptic imagery of crumbling cities and desolate desert landscapes with Soviet-style art and a touch of Metropolis.
Daniels impresses with a fantastic mullet and fashion choices (topless in leather pants). His fight performance is even better, and he pulls some nasty moves on his opponents, rearranging body parts in numerous uncanny ways. Despite being a tad too serious and cheesy on occasion, Fist of the North Star scores high on atmosphere, and delivers a bunch of kick-ass fights!
Isn’t this one of the most awesome titles for an action flick! Humans lost the war against the machines and were also rendered sterile in the nuclear fallout. Mary is tasked to bring an engineered embryo to safety, and only the mysterious loner Austin (Joe Lara) can protect her from the dangers lurking in the ruins of civilization. The movie is a relentless chase with a cascade of shootouts and fights, as Mary and Austin are facing a psychopathic drag queen gang, mutant mummy cannibals, and a blonde mustache terminator.
Despite being incredibly derivative, the film succeeds in creating a good sense of immersion into a post-apocalyptic cityscape. If an action-packed hiking trip through industrial ruins with frantic shootouts sounds appealing to you, you’re in for a lot of fun with American Cyborg: Steel Warrior.
After World War III. A super soldier experiment gone wrong. “The Muzzles”, cross-bred from humans and pigs. Humans in concentration camps and their meat is on the menu. Rob Justice, the hero of the human resistance. Sent to kill the “Mother of Muzzles”. Fighting a pig-man in a jetpack with a midget strapped to his back. Cyborgs. Telekinesis. Time Travel. Women with mustaches. Thick Eastern European accents. Absurd humor. Filth. Brutality. Disgust. Creative. Energetic. High-grade camp. Modern grindhouse perfection.
The tabletop role-playing and miniatures game received a bonkers conversion into a movie. In 2707, the world is devastated from constant war. An ancient ground seal is broken, and an army of bloodthirsty monsters emerges. The monk Samuel assembles a suicide commando of elite soldiers to descend into the pit and save mankind.
The world of Mutant Chronicles features an inventive and haunting imagery with its blend of WW1, steampunk, and Metropolis-style visuals. The film is also a massive slugfest, when mutants go on their rampage over the battlefields, and our band of heroes makes its descent into almost literal hell and plow through hordes of enemies. Big-ass blades and firearms leave perforated and exploding bodies in their trails. Mutant Chronicles is a post-apocalyptic Steampunk action fest deluxe!
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, Bounty Killer became an instant indie action classic! After greedy corporations devastated the world, it’s hunting season for white-collar criminals. The two bounty hunters Drifter and Mary Death share a love-hate relationship, and their actions will determine the fate of the whole wasteland.
Western, Grindhouse and retro visuals are thrown together to create a colorful setting that radiates fun from the first to the last minute. The action does not disappoint, with some cool car chases Mad Max-style, and ultra-bloody shootouts with lots of macabre ideas. There’s also a triumphant cameo for Gary Busey as chief executing psychopath. Bounty Hunter delivers 90 minutes of pure escapism and spectacle.
In 1996, Pamela Anderson tried to diversify her acting activities beyond Baywatch into the movie business and gave us this wild and sexy actioner based on a comic book. In a USA ravaged by the second civil war, Bar owner and bounty hunter Barb Wire (Anderson) gets caught in the crossfire between criminal gangs, the police, and a government torture squad. The film has a fantastic visual vibe, it’s a delicious Punk Rock Industrial dystopia.
Anderson’s character is a legitimate bad-ass heroine, and her earnestness makes delivery of the numerous cheesy one-liners even more compelling. Her physical performance is also impressive – with lots of shooting and punching – considering she does everything with four-inch-high heels and a tight corset. And the final showdown is a spectacular half hour of vehicular carnage and non-stop explosions. Barb Wire is how I like my comic book movies: silly, violent, and action-packed!
Albert Pyun will always be remembered as the ultimate grandmaster of cyborg flicks, and the terrific action extravaganza Knights ranks high among them! A cyborg army roams the barren earth, draining people’s blood as fuel for their bodies. Only Nea (Kathy Land) and the rogue cyborg Gabriel (Kris Kristofferson) have knowledge of secret martial arts techniques that can kill the cyborgs and save humanity.
Vampire cyborg knights on horses attain consciousness by injecting themselves with human blood. Rarely has there been a greater premise for an action film than this one. Cyborgs and humans duke it out relentlessly, and the fight sequences are some of the best you will find in a DTV flick from the 1990s. Knights is an ultimate cheesy spectacle!
Priest steals shamelessly from genre classics such as Judge Dredd,Underworld, and Equilibrium, but does it in such an excellent way that it becomes a high-octane action adventure! The war between humanity and vampires has concluded, and humanity’s elite warriors, the Priests were forced into retirement. When the niece of a Priest (Paul Bettany) is abducted by the former enemy, he becomes a hunter once again.
Cyberpunk, Western and post-apocalyptictic tropes are merged into a delicious Sci-Fi pulp cocktail. Martial arts priests vs. vampires is a perfect premise for lots of violent clashes with gunfire, holy cross shurikens and slo-mo roundhousing. Priest is highly derivative, but also highly entertaining.
The two martial arts movie legends director Isaac Florentine and the uncrowned king of spinning kicks Gary Daniels teamed up for this slam dunk in the low-budget action arena. Bounty hunter Roland (Daniels) rescues Christine, the wife of his deceased brother, from the grips of lunatic bandit lord Little Ray (Brian Genesse) and his sinister plan for her. Little Ray wants her back, and the show is on.
Cold Harvest gives us the post-apocalypse Wild West style with a sprinkle of Gun Fu, and a total overdose of martial arts. Florentine goes all in from the beginning with a crazy tempo and Daniels has plenty of opportunity to showcase his talent, all the way to a finale that is pure carnage captured on celluloid. Cold Harvest is DTV gold of the highest purity!
The 1980s were a great decade for goofy and action-packed Sci-Fi comedies, and Cherry 2000 ranks high among them. When Sam’s (David Andrews) sex android Cherry breaks, he enlists the help of tracker “E” (Melanie Griffith) to find spare parts in the scrapyard of Zone 7, the most dangerous part of the wasteland. The colorful badlands look like Las Vegas exploded and its remains rained down everywhere.
Our two leads Sam and E are incredibly charming and unlikely action heroes, and nonchalantly pass through even the most dangerous situations. The highlight of the film is a legendary sequence that involves a car dangling in the air, half a dozen rocket launchers, and a perilous drop into a water tunnel of the Hoover dam. Cherry 2000 is an enormously fun trip through the wasteland, and E’s sweatshirt with the print “Dignity” should be compulsorily worn by every member of humanity.
Love and Monsters shows us that optimism can prevail despite the hardships of living in the ruins of civilization. After an environmental disaster, insects and reptiles have grown to gargantuan proportions, and wiped out most of humanity. Joel (Dylan O’Brian) leaves his bunker and embarks on the dangerous journey through monster-infested nature to be reunited with his lost girlfriend Aimee.
The film impresses with an extraordinarily light-hearted vibe, witty dialogues, and likeable characters. The wildlands are populated by fascinating but almost always deadly creatures that launch relentless attacks against Joel and his fellow travelers. Love and Monsters carries the simple but important message that it’s fun to get out of your (metaphoric) bunker every once in a while, there may be an adventure waiting for you outside.
Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman clash intensely in this atmospheric post-apocalyptic actioner. Eli (Washington) scavenges the ruins of civilization for food and goods. He stops in a village that is ruled by the tyrannical Carnegie (Oldman), who seeks to get hold of a mysterious book Eli carries with him, and a violent confrontation arises. Directors Albert and Allen Hughes create images that are eerie and beautiful at the same time and evoke the vibe of a Western frontier town.
Some religious undertones are cleverly embedded into the story and invite you to reflect on them instead of being preachy. The action is well-dosed and incredibly brutal. Washington is a stoic bad-ass, and his uncanny speed and precision make him a seemingly unsurmountable protector of his book. The Book of Eli is a grim, but also hopeful tale, and a fantastic entry to the genre!
In Snowpiercer, director Bong Joon Ho creates an ingenious microcosmos against the backdrop of a frozen world after an experiment to mitigate climate change went horribly wrong. The only survivors are on board the train Snowpiercer that moves through the icy wasteland. The poorest of them dwell in abysmal conditions and are oppressed by the self-proclaimed elite in the front wagons. Curtis (Chris Evans) and Edgar (Jamie Bell) devise a plan to break through the barriers and start a rebellion.
It’s a not-so-subtle metaphor for an impermeable class system, but the setting inevitably will draw you in thanks to its believable characters that are brought to life by a fantastic cast. The film is also an action-packed call to arms, and the numerous fights in close quarters are ferocious and immensely gripping. Snowpiercer is a rare breed, masterfully blending emotional depth, kick-ass action, and food for thought!
Reign of Fire puts an interesting spin on the apocalypse when dragons that laid dormant for ages awaken and set the world ablaze. Years after apocalypse, a small band of survivors teams up with a squad of US soldiers who have found a way to end the dragon menace once and for all. The Marines upgraded the traditional dragon-slayer tactics, helicopters and tanks surely pack a lot more punch than swords and lances.
Director Rob Bowman shows us a world transformed into a hellish inferno of smoke, fire, and ash. The story is told straightforwardly without being dumb and keeps the action coming at a good rate. The dragons are bad-ass monsters and deliver devastating attacks that would make Godzilla proud. Reign of Fire is perfect popcorn entertainment!
The first full-length film of Canadian indie RKSS become one of the best indie actioners of all time! When scavenging the ruins of civilization on his BMX bike, the Kid (Munro Chambers) finds the power glove of the mythical soldier Turbo Rider. With his new weapon he takes it up against the ruler of the wasteland Zeus (Michael Ironside) and his army of sadistic killers.
In the world of Turbo Kid, everyone rides a bicycle, and even the most intimidating villains look adorable when cruising around on their BMX bikes. The whole film is a charming homage to the post-apocalyptic classics we all love and throws in a load of references to 1980s pop culture, plus a fantastic Synthwave soundtrack. The action features gory slapstick sequences, with plenty of heads being chopped off and fountains of blood. Turbo Kid also teaches us the ultimate rule for close combat: Eyes! Throat! Genitals!
The ambitious artistic vision of Albert Pyun may never have been more visible than in Cyborg, his post-apocalyptic opus magnum. Mercenary Gibson (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is tasked by the CDC to escort the cyborg Pearl on her journey through the wasteland to bring the cure for the disease that has decimated humanity to a safe place, while being chased by the sadistic Fender (Vincent Klyn) and his gang of pirates.
The first scene of the movie throws us into a nightmarish vision of a post-apocalyptic world, and the visuals he crafted for Cyborg in this scene and many others are engrossing. Van Damme gets to do his share of roundhousing, but the most memorable character is his counterpart Fender, one of the most intimidating and bad-ass villains of all time. Cyborg hits the sweet spot for balancing an atmospheric journey through the wasteland with just the right amount of kick-ass action!
With The Blood of Heroes, legendary screenwriter David Webb Peoples (Blade Runner, Unforgiven) gave us an ingenious post-apocalyptic sports actioner. Sallow (Rutger Hauer) and his fighters travel through a barren land to compete in Jugging matches, a savage version of American Football. To earn their place among the lucky few in the subterranean Nine Cities, they need to defeat the elite Juggers from the underground.
This version of the wasteland that does not look inviting for adventure, but just desolate and bleak. A great cast is led by the late Rutger Hauer who is as charismatic and commanding as ever. The Jugger matches are intense, raw, and devoid of any pathos. Peoples masterfully succeeds at drawing the audience right into the middle of the playing field, with plenty of broken bones and blood being spilled. The Blood of Heroes is one of the best entries to the sports action genre ever!
1) Mad Max Saga (1979 – 2015)
George Miller invented the post-apocalyptic action genre as we know it today. Police officer Max Rockatansky turns to a cynical anti-hero, in a world that became a playground for savage characters and their murderous vehicles. All four films are ultimate classics, so we lump all of them into our number one spot, but we give you a mini ranking of them:
4) Mad Max (1979): a cynical low-budget actioner that already contained many ingredients of the later classics
3) Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985): A light-hearted entry to the movie series, with a fantastic world-building and the legendary Thunderdome fight
2) The Road Warrior (1981): The classic tale of the wasteland drifter with some of the best car mayhem of all time
1) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): The best action movie of the 21st century that brought an insane new level of car action to the genre that can only be surpassed by Miller himself
A look at the most ultimate bad guys to go up against the great John Wick.
We all know John Wick himself is a legend, but to get to that point, Mr. Wick has had to fight his way through countless opponents. Today, we are focusing on all of the “shadows” killed by the Baba Yaga: the many henchmen that Wick met on his way to the top of the High Table. Who posed the biggest threat? And who had the biggest impact on fans’ minds? Let’s find out here.
The Wick saga is full of colourful villains, and some fall just short of the top five, but still deserve special praise. Among them are one scene wonder Ernest (Boban Marjanović), a tall assassin from the third film who loves Dante, and Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), a ruthless killer who doesn’t hesitate to attack John on Continental grounds – and pays the price for it. Another memorable henchman is Chapter 4’s Chidi (Marko Zaror), a bad guy who learns the hard way that you definitely shouldn’t attack dogs in the Wick saga.
5) The Shinobi – John Wick: Parabellum (2019)
Who needs a name when you have some of the best Indonesian martial artists? Who needs a backstory when you have Pencak Silat? The Indonesian students of Japanese master Zero are a lethal duo. On screen, Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian (both seen in the famous The Raid duology) make formidable opponents to Wick, and their fight scene is tense, believable and enjoyable all at once. Let’s be honest, the Shinobi’s small part doesn’t leave much time for character development, but the respect they have for the Baba Yaga helps to flesh them out – and earns them John’s mercy. In an ideal world, they’ll stick around for upcoming spin-off Ballerina!
4) Ares – John Wick: 2 (2017)
A woman of a no words and only a few signs, Ares (Ruby Rose) is a consistent menace for John, following him around for most of the second film. While we get to see that she is quite handy with a dagger and considers herself as Wick’s equal, he gets the upper hand very easily during their climatic fight. Ares offers an excellent counterpart to the Shinobi: she has little honour and merely wants to best the one she sees as a living legend. Her tense relationship with John says a lot about both characters. Although Ares was no match for the Baba Yaga, she still remains a memorable killer!
3) Zero – John Wick: Parabellum (2019)
Yes, Wick is a legend, and his admirers are plentiful: among them is chief assassin Zero (Mark Dacascos), Parabellum’s best antagonist: when he isn’t happily cooking fish in his sushi restaurant, Zero is fighting his way through anything – and anyone – that stands between him and John Wick. Mark Dacascos manages to create a standout character in a saga already full of colourful antagonists: Zero goes from happily chatting about cats and professing his admiration for Wick to coolly dispatching his enemies in just a few seconds. A good character is one which has more to them than meets the eye, and with his fun-loving personality, Zero definitely fits the bill.
2) Killa – John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)
Reaching the top of the villainy scale is no mean feat, but Killa Harkan (Scott Adkins) isn’t anyone: he unceremoniously offed the leader of the Ruska Roma, Wick’s original crime family, and shows very little respect for his enemies. In an era where anti-villains are getting more and more common, and many antagonists have good justifications for their bad deeds, Killa is a refreshing breath of sour air. It’s always nice to see a truly nasty bad guy who pokes fun at all of his opponents! Killa’s nightclub fight against John also has an excellent choreography – and sees the maniacally laughing bad guy meet a suitably gruesome end.
1) Caine – John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)
The mere inclusion of Donnie Yen in a John Wick movie sounded like good news, but his character, Caine, exceeded expectations: Caine is one of the franchise’s most memorable and complex antagonists – from a screenwriting perspective, he’s even more interesting thanChapter 4’s Big Bad, the Marquis. Caine is an assassin who keeps serving the High Table to avoid them taking the life of his beloved daughter like they took his sight. His blindness is never portrayed in a pitiful way: Caine is simply a highly skilled killer who happens to be blind, and he makes the most of his unique hearing abilities. Of course, his love for his daughter makes him an interesting counterpart to his former friend John Wick, and he is a slightly more profound antagonist than most others in the saga. Forced out of retirement by stronger powers, Caine is essentially another Wick, and the best henchman in a franchise focused on duty, vengeance and honour.
A PREVIEW OF THE MOST ULTIMATE LOOKING ACTION FLICKS AT THIS YEAR’S FANTASTIC FEST.
Here we are again at another Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. One of our favorite film festivals here at the Ultimate Action Movie Club, this genre-specific fest is one of the best kept secrets for true, blue ultimate action fans.
And while, it’s true, that Fantastic Fest might be better known for its horror and schlock features, it’s always been a great home for action flicks both new and old. And this year is no different.
There’s a lot that we’re looking forward to from internationally acclaimed action directors, to lost classics, to up-and-coming stars, so — if you happen to be at Fantastic Fest this year, or are simply looking to keep tabs from the fest — here are our top picks for the most ultimate action movies at Fantastic Fest 2023.
BABY ASSASSINS 2
101 minutes | Japan | 2023
On a whim in high school, our favorite pair of assassins joined a gym to get into shape. To no one’s surprise, the two haven’t gone back since, and now four years of overdue fees must be paid before they lose their membership in their assassin guild. While trying to send a last-minute payment, Chisato and Mahiro’s bank is taken hostage, and they miss the deadline. With all their money spent on elaborate sweets, the pair are forced to take part-time jobs while waiting to be reinstated as hired killers. Unfortunately for our free agents — but fortunately for us — two assassins have been tasked with killing them in the meantime.
Our beloved baby assassins make their ice-cream-covered return to Fantastic Fest. As with the first installment, the performances from Saori Izawa and Akari Takaishi literally take the cake, as they struggle with their day jobs while scheming to get good with the guild. Both actresses take the over-the-top humor and ridiculous fight choreography to even greater heights by channeling millennial existentialism into the everyday lives of these low-level assassins, but Izawa in particular gets to use her prodigious experience as a stuntwoman to show off her comedic timing combined with her expert martial arts.
There are more stunts, more kills, more bizarre assassin handbook rules, and a pair of cute boys who want them dead. Welcome back, Chisato and Mahiro. (AUSTIN KING)
ENTER THE CLONES OF BRUCE
94 minutes | USA | 2023
WHAAAAAA! WATAAAHHH! AAAAAYYYYYY!
You’d be hard pressed to find another actor who could be identified based on just a few yelps, but somehow, immediately, you know the man I’m referring to here.
Although Bruce Lee’s best-known films — THE BIG BOSS, FIST OF FURY, and THE WAY OF THE DRAGON — weren’t produced for audiences outside of Hong Kong, his cool blend of rakish charm and unparalleled martial arts skill caught the attention of the global market and quickly established him as an international star. When he died in 1973, it left an indelible mark on a genre that was just beginning to establish itself, and film studios around the world jumped into the fray to capitalize on Lee’s incomparable presence, giving birth to a kung fu subgenre — Bruceploitation.
From spitting-image clones like Dragon Lee in South Korea and Bruce Le in Myanmar to spiritual successors like Blaxploitation icon Jim Kelly and the pioneering “Lady Kung Fu” Angela Mao, the ripple effect of the Dragon’s death lasted over a decade, spawning countless careers and hundreds of movies.
ENTER THE CLONES OF BRUCE tracks down producers, scholars, aficionados, and some of the movement’s biggest stars, all skilled martial artists in their own right, as they reminisce over a bygone era of gonzo plotlines, shoestring budgets, and questionable taste. (LORI DONNELLY)
THE INVISIBLE FIGHT
115 minutes | Estonia, Latvia, Greece, Finland | 2023
Rafeal is the sole survivor of an attack on a Soviet outpost. Inspired by the three martial artists who easily dispatched the other guards on duty with him, Rafeal decides to learn kung fu. Unfortunately for him, “everything cool” is banned in the USSR, and he’ll have to seek martial arts teachers at one of the unlikeliest places: the local Eastern Orthodox monastery.
With a disapproving mother, a rival monk/kung fu student, and a possible girlfriend pulling him in separate directions, Rafael will have to resolve his calling to kung fu mastery at the monastery, suppressing his heavy metal, rebellious nature to subvert all authority, in order to unlock the greatest martial art of all.
THE INVISIBLE FIGHT features over-the-top costuming and production design, a quick wit, and monks fighting. Each action setpiece feels unique, using the Orthodox monastery setting to its full potential with fun takes on martial arts movie staples like doing chores as a beginner’s training tool or harnessing one’s inner self to unlock your full potential.
The movie’s best regional adaptation is probably its take on the stock character of the old, ailing master looking for a successor. Nafanail (Indrek Sammul) is the monastery’s greatest monk and martial artist, and he enjoys overseasoning his food, asking his students difficult questions about the origin of sin, and spending time with his monk boyfriend. In addition to being a key figure in the narrative and comedic setpieces, Nafanail is a teacher, a theologian, and politically outspoken. He also gets the best fight in the movie.
Director Rainer Sarnet harnesses the action movie history THE INVISIBLE FIGHT needs, in particular the Chinese wuxia roots, and uses this to tell a Northern European story. Explicitly referencing genre classics like ENTER THE DRAGON, the film does not rest on just being a comedy or an action fan’s game of “spot the reference,” but asks questions about faith, spiritual duty, and the modern state of Russia and Europe. And if that all sounds too serious, don’t worry. There are monks flying on wires through Orthodox cathedrals. (AUSTIN KING)
108 minutes | India | 2023
Army commando Amrit (played by Lakshya, an actor to keep an eye on) has just finished a mission off the grid, and he’s looking forward to spending his time off-duty with his girlfriend, Tullika. Unaware of their clandestine relationship, Tullika’s father has arranged a marriage to another man. She’s set to travel back to New Delhi by train with her family the next morning.
Strong headed Amrit is not going to just stand by, and he boards the train with his best bud, another commando named Viresh, in the hopes of getting her back and proposing to her. The plans are rapidly shattered by a group of 40 violent, blade-wielding thugs led by Fani (handsome Raghav Juyal), who have boarded the train to relieve the passengers of their precious belongings. Amrit and Viresh are men of action, and they’re not going to just sit and watch. Let the skull crushing begin.
For all our audience members who cheered for PROJECT WOLF HUNTING and squirmed in their seats during THE RAID, this new film, written and directed by Indian director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat, is for you. This is probably the first Indian film of its kind, and it’s BRUTAL! With all the action and close combat taking place in the confined spaces of a few train cars, Bhat makes sure that every piece of furniture and every prop at hand is used to crush some bones or puncture some organs… including a fire extinguisher.
KILL is fast-paced, and the action choreography (signed by Se-yeong Oh and Parvez Shaikh) is brutal. With some very dramatic key scenes serving as gear shifts, Bhat turns up the dial on savagery throughout the film, to the delight of the audience. (ANNICK MAHNERT)
MANCUNIAN MAN: THE LEGENDARY LIFE OF CLIFF TWEMLOW
124 minutes | UK | 2023
Cliff Twemlow gives a whole new meaning to the term Renaissance Man. Musician, author, bouncer, stuntman, and director, Twemlow is a legend in his hometown of Manchester. Now the rest of the world has a chance to catch up on one of the UK’s most prolific indie filmmakers, who spent the ‘80s and ‘90s creating outrageous low-budget flicks with a cast of friends and family.
This engrossing documentary chronicles the many exploits of Twemlow, celebrating his tenacity and legacy of independent filmmaking. He first came into the spotlight with his book TUXEDO WARRIOR, based on his time as a bouncer. When the book was adapted into a film, Twemlow was inspired to start shooting his own direct-to-VHS films. Through sheer willpower, Twemlow created a mini-film industry in Manchester that lasted nearly a decade, giving birth to B-movies like G.B.H. (GRIEVOUS BODILY HARM), which was banned as a “video nasty” at the time.
A larger-than-life figure, the doc is filled with amusing anecdotes and wild tales from Twemlow’s friends and co-creators. However, beneath all the hijinks, Twemlow’s real passion for cinema and creation, by any means necessary, shines through in this comprehensive tribute to his life and work. (LISA DREYER)
SRI ASIH: THE WARRIOR
133 minutes | Indonesia | 2022
Alana is a boxer with aspirations of competing against men and taking her rightful place as the champion of her local boxing circuit, despite not being taken seriously due to her gender. The tournament is a front for a local gang, and Alana’s on the verge of discovering that she’s the reincarnation of the ancient Goddess Asih. This revelation comes with super speed, inhuman strength, a magic scarf, and the attention of an evil deity seeking a human host.
Many American superhero movies of late have been, let’s say, inconsistent in quality. It’s easy to feel burned out on the genre. Luckily, SRI ASIH is here to prove that the Indonesian Bumilangit Cinematic Universe is just getting started. There’s a focus on martial arts fighting and sparingly used CGI. If you’re worried about not understanding this movie’s place in the overall narrative, have no fear. This is a mostly standalone story focused on Alana and her personal journey and is only the second outing in this budding cinematic universe.
Pevita Pearce plays Alana with a barely contained rage, intense physicality, and a chip on her shoulder against the rich and the patriarchy. SRI ASIH doesn’t shy away from adult themes around gendered violence and class while maintaining an eye on thrilling action set-pieces. Director Upi Avianto, styled as just Upi in the film’s credits, keeps the action grounded in Alana’s boxing background even when mystical elements are introduced, with incredible single-take battles against a hallway of nameless goons or one-on-one ring fights with dudebro assholes.
Coming up in Indonesia’s film industry directing comedies and crime dramas, Upi stakes her claim in the emerging superhero world as a director with intense, real-life fight choreography, physical stunts, and female empowerment. All of these elements build to one of the most impressive spectacles of the Fantastic Fest 2023 program — Alana facing off with ninjas and a shadow demon in an all-out factory brawl to prevent the resurrection of a fire goddess.
Strap on your bulletproof wristbands and get ready to box your way to SRI ASIH. (AUSTIN KING)
113 minutes | Philippines | 2023
Miguel is the sole survivor of a military operation gone horribly wrong, haunted by the brutal death of his best friend at the hands of a militant cult in the heart of the Philippine jungle. Still suffering from the effects of PTSD, Miguel procures a job as a night watchman in a Manila warehouse where (in)conveniently “everything is flammable and explosive” as he attempts to uneventfully re-enter civilian life.
Living in the city’s northern slums, Weng attempts to keep her good-for-nothing younger brother, Bogs, on the straight and narrow. When he runs afoul of the local kingpin, Weng reluctantly agrees to return to her illicit past as a drug runner for the notorious Valdez crew in exchange for his life.
Meanwhile, Romero, the head of a by any means necessary anti-narcotics unit, has been given orders by his colonel to wipe the Valdez crew out to keep the corrupt mayor’s ties to cartel money off the record. When Weng and Bogs narrowly escape the bloody scene and take shelter in Miguel’s warehouse, he escorts the interlopers from the premises, but not before the police intervene. Now Miguel and Weng must engage in the most brutal warfare in a no-holds-barred fight for their lives.
Boasting a massive body count that would make John Woo proud, TRIGGERED revels in decadent ‘80s- and ‘90s-style bloodshed. A must-see for action fans who prefer their movies with large doses of firepower. (LORI DONNELLY)
90 minutes | France | 2023
“Wake up, people! You’ve awoken the beast, and now we’re coming for you. It’s gonna be blood for blood.”
“That was savage, bro.”
So begins the clarion call from a group of Gen Z self-styled activists. Incensed by the environmental destruction wrought by a fictitious minimalist Swedish furniture store, the band of six sneaks into the big-box store after hours to wreak havoc of their own, gleefully destroying displays and smearing animal blood on bathroom fixtures for the benefit of the ‘gram.
As emboldened as they may be, their sense of outrage pales in comparison to the seething, decades-long resentment of the night watchman, Kevin. Already teetering on the edge of sanity and now piqued by his mistreatment at the hands of management and the disrespectful 20-somethings, he eagerly accepts their bloody invitation, putting his “primitive hunting” techniques to good use. As Kevin creatively picks off members of the collective one by one, those that remain stage a final stand in an attempt to make it out alive.
One of two films screened at Fantastic Fest this year by the Montreal trio known as RKSS (namely Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell, and François Simard), practitioners of ‘80s retro pop nostalgia (TURBO KID, SUMMER OF ‘84), WAKE UP channels the likes of classics like CHOPPING MALL for contemporary audiences, dripping with equal measures of cheeky cynicism and sincerity. (LORI DONNELLY)
Paired with Short: THE INFLUENCER
WHEN EVIL LURKS
99 minutes | Argentina, Uruguay | 2023
In a rural village, two brothers find a badly mutilated corpse next to a mysterious journal at the edge of their property. Determined to figure out the cause of death, the brothers uncover a local man harboring an evil spirit who has been waiting for a specialist to come and rid him of his demon. Unfortunately, help hasn’t arrived speedily enough, and the demon is ready to possess its next victim. Thus begins a race against time and evil as the brothers and eventually the entire village are drawn into the chaotic, heart-pounding mission to save their families and hometown from this nightmare.
Fantastic Fest regulars are no strangers to director Demián Rugna, who won Best Horror Picture for TERRIFIED in 2018 and was again awarded as part of the team of directors behind last year’s anthology SATANIC HISPANICS. Rugna is a master at creating scenes that will scare the crap out of you, and WHEN EVIL LURKS is no exception. This film is truly unrelenting, with a propulsive energy that carries you from one horrific scenario to the next. If you don’t audibly gasp (or scream out loud) at least once during this movie, I’m going to have to check your pulse to make sure you’re alive. (LISA DREYER)
2014 saw the beginning of one of the most unique sagas in recent action cinema history: John Wick (Keanu Reeves), also known as the Baba Yaga, was born in an era where brainless blockbusters were the norm, and immediately offered something different.
The 2014 movie focuses on the grieving Wick, a retired hitman who just lost his beloved wife Helen after a long illness. When the puppy she left him is killed by the son of a local kingpin, John has no choice but to get back in the business and avenge the dog.
The rest is history: after four films and an upcoming spin-off titled Ballerina, featuring Ana De Armas, John Wick is recognised as one of the most solid action franchises.
The Book of John Wick
The fourth film in the saga, released a few months ago in 2023, was met with critical acclaim from fans and critiques alike, and is, indeed, a quintessential action movie! Yet to get to that place, Wick has outlived three other movies, and managed to stay a step ahead of other action franchises. In 2014, the first entry got off to an excellent start: John Wick’s slow pace and simple plot offered a stark contrast to the action blockbusters of the time. Like John McClane in his glory days, Wick isn’t trying to save the world, but is just involved in a small-scale story that snowballs into something bigger. At the turn of the 2010s, John Wick’s beautiful editing also made it a standout – it avoided the common choppy editing which makes so many movies of the early 2000s hard to rewatch. With its dark and mature tone and its beautiful shots, the film broke the mold of action films, and put some “gravity” back in them. Wick himself, a grieving anti-hero who simply wants to avenge his dog, is easy to root for, and his fights feel warranted – and thus, impactful.
How do you top a simple and effective action film? John Wick: Chapter 2’s answer was straight to the point: the sequel, released in 2017, decided to expand the first film’s universe – rather than simply topping its action. Yes, the second movie does go where the first one didn’t: the assassin now finds himself fighting the Camorra in Italy and, in one of the saga’s most memorable sequences, he kills a man with a pencil! Yet John Wick: Chapter 2’s real achievement is its world-building: creating a universe which could only be imagined in the first film. An entire underworld of assassins exist in front of our eyes, led by a mysterious and threatening High Table. Continental concierge Charon (the late Lance Reddick) and manager Winston (Ian McShane), who run a safe haven for killers, are just the tip of the iceberg, and Wick is just one of many sharp guns in a merciless world. The second film lacks some of its predecessor’s gravity, but it does allow the Wick saga to embrace its over-the-top and pulp nature.
The John Wick-verse
This is thanks to a unique universe, which uses neo-noir tropes in a witty way. Wick might be serious, but his movies never pretend to be more than hours of beautiful, unbridled chaos. The ending of the second film sees John transgressing the rules of the Continental hotel, much to the dismay of Winston who has to declare him “Excommunicado” – effectively putting a bounty on his head. This leads us to Parabellum, the third entry in the franchise, released in 2019. On paper, this third movie could be called the weakest in the franchise: it serves as a filler before the final chapter, and keeps toying with the same themes, by having Wick trying to survive in a world where his friends are ever less numerous. Yet Parabellum lives up to its name: it raises the stakes for the final film, and it keeps the saga’s pulp formula alive and well. The neo-noir clichés are now pushed to the maximum, with the franchise even starting to design its own tropes. John Wick 3 knows that the saga has become iconic, and now has fun getting Wick to kill with the most improbable objects. In the movie’s most interesting sequence, John reclaims his former name, Jardani Jovonovich, to get back to his original crime family. Said brood features a stern matriarch (a delightful Anjelica Huston), some killer ballerinas and a few steampunk assassins. The imagery of the underworld would not be complete without the coolest radio operators possible, and a colour palette which has banned all shades other than blue, orange and purple. The franchise has now successfully developed its own universe and themes, making it a literal standout.
Of course, Reeves’ ghost-like presence is essential to the saga, and the actor arguably gives his most compelling performance in the fourth and final chapter. In one of 2023’s best action movies, Keanu Reeves has few lines, but a lot to say with his body language and longing looks. John Wick: Chapter 4 sees Wick desperately trying to regain his freedom – in life or in death. This fourth entry is an apotheosis: while it does feel a little bloated towards the end, its fighting sequences are action at its finest! Not only does Keanu get some excellent moves, but he is joined by other fighters such as Hiroyuki Sanada, Rina Sawayama and the incredible Donnie Yen. Here, the carnage gets more personal: for once, we see John truly haunted by friendships from his past. Even Wick’s status as a legend is constantly tested. He is pushed to the limits by the High Table’s final trial, and death is getting closer.
The Saga’s Ultimate Action
John Wick 4 is an excellent end to an equally powerful franchise: it offers a testament to the saga’s unique action – by featuring some iconic villains, such as the nasty Killa (Scott Adkins) – and perfectly matches its central themes of grief, freedom and acceptance of death.
The film also takes a final step towards the expansion of its universe: as justified by its ending, the world is not just about John Wick anymore, and we meet his friend Kenji Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his former ally turned rival Caine (Donnie Yen). We now have a much wider view of the assassins’ universe, which exists beyond our favourite hitman and will continue after him.
In an era where pulp is less present in action movies, John Wick’s brutal and fun films, which fully embrace their over-the-top nature, feel refreshing!
A look back at how the absence of cynicism and brutality makes Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome a humorous and emotional action classic.
George Miller almost single-handedly invented the modern post-apocalyptic action film, and the Mad Max saga belongs to the best that the genre has to offer. After his legendary masterpiece The Road Warrior he dialed the insanity level back just a little and created Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. Max Rockatansky’s third trip to the wasteland gave us a fresh perspective on the post-nuclear world, so let’s have a look!
Wasteland drifter Max (Mel Gibson) arrives in the settlement Bartertown to find his stolen car. Bartertown’s ruler Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) is in constant conflict with Masterblaster, the lord of the subterranean plant that provides energy for the surface dwellers. Max is coerced to solve Aunty’s problem by challenging Masterblaster to a lethal fight in the Thunderdome arena. After winning, he is betrayed and exiled to the desert. Max is rescued by a tribe of children who welcome him as their messiah, but he is drawn back to Aunty’s anger.
What’s a little fallout, eh?
The preliminary closure of the trilogy gives a more optimistic and humorous take on Max’s endeavors than the previous installments. Millers serves us a three-course menu that turns from campy action into an emotional journey and closes out with a fantastic car action finale. The sudden turns of mood and pacing may not appeal to viewers who expected another non-stop action masterpiece, but the film has a lot to offer beyond its action sequences.
Miller puts a strong focus on world-building and does it so convincingly that it became the template for dozens of copycats in the decades to follow. He fleshes out the world with incredibly detailed sets and fantastic cinematography that captures the proceedings against the backdrop of an epic desert landscape. The outrageous costume design with shoulder pads, mohawks and armor corsets became equally iconic and was imitated countless times.
Bartertown’s energy supply is provided by pig excrements from an underground facility. The city’s dependence on biogas draws obvious parallels to our society that is still powered by fossil fuels for the most part. So we might argue that business is going on as usual even after the big war. And yet Auntie’s rule has not created an evil society, but her hard rules for a hard world have enabled Bartertown to thrive to some extent.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: Dying time’s here!
The alternative concept is the tribe of children, who are depicted as noble savages with a cargo cult, and Max is destined to be their savior. After being forsaken by the adults, the adolescents are given a chance to be truly free and build a society devoid of aggression and not corrupted by technology. These two approaches both work in their own ways, even though they require different types of attitudes, and the children’s society may lend itself better to bring actual peace of mind to its inhabitants.
Tina Turner oozes an incredible amount of charisma and brings a lot of energy to the film. She will win you over in an instant, and we instantly forgive her any fits of malice she occasionally has. Gibson’s Max also loosens up a bit compared to the previous films. He talks more and even rediscovers his emotions when he starts to care for the children. And there’s plenty of memorable and fun characters in the film besides its two main stars. The action is more playful and significantly less brutal than in the previous films, which is in line with the overall more mellow presentation. There are two major set pieces: the Thunderdome fight and the essential car assault sequence towards the end of the film.
Thunderdome: Two men enter, one man leaves
Thunderdome has found its way into the pop culture canon with its iconic call to battle and Masterblaster, a brain and a brawn melded into a single terrifying creature. The scene takes movie cage fights to a new level thanks to Miller’s stroke of genius to create a semi-spherical arena where the contestants swing through the air strapped to rubber bands, with a raving audience covering the fences, and deadly weapons placed in the arena ready for taking.
Max’s return to Bartertown from exile also brings back the action and shows how Auntie’s project literally is built on a volatile basis. After demolishing the underground plant, Mad and his crew hijack an old train with the motorized Bartertown motor pool on their heels. Miller demonstrates again that he is a master of car action when the train is besieged at 50 mph. It’s a fantastic sequence with the adrenaline level cranked to the maximum, and occasionally just as perilous for the stunt crew as in the Road Warrior.
The absence of cynicism and brutality makes Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome a rare entry to the post-apocalyptic action genre. Miller created an often humorous and emotional tale that became an eternal classic just like all other installments of the movie series.
How ‘The Punisher’ avoids the beloved spectacle of comic book movies and goes for something much darker and more ultimate.
The Punisher (2004) trades the explosiveness of the 1989 film for the unapologetic violence of the films that inspired the character. It avoids the beloved spectacle of comic book movies and goes for something much darker.
As a child, I feverishly clung to anything comic book-related, from watching my older cousin play Spider-Man on the PlayStation One to watching the X-Men animated series on Fox every Saturday morning.
Although I never read many comic books during that time, my admiration for the medium was neverending thanks to video games, television, and mostly film. I saw Spider-Man (2001) and Daredevil (2003) on the big screen when I was young, but the film that left the biggest impression on me was one I saw on TV a couple of years after its release.
I am referring to none other than The Punisher (2004).
UAMC Reviews ‘The Punisher’ (2004)
Based loosely on the comic book series, Welcome Back, Frank and The Punisher: Year One, the film follows FBI agent Frank Castle’s quest for revenge after his entire family is murdered under the orders of crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta) in retaliation for Castle inadvertently killing Saint’s son Bobby during a sting operation. The film marks the directorial debut of Jonathan Hensleigh (the writer responsible for Die Hard with a Vengeance and Armageddon). He plants his feet close to those roots of 70’s vigilantism the character is known for.
If you have the smallest amount of comic book knowledge, it wouldn’t be difficult to figure out that most characters are usually tied to a specific location. Similar to how Daredevil and Spider-Man live and breathe New York, The Punisher is a staple to New York vigilantes in the Marvel Universe. So, the elephant in the room is that the film trades the usual dark and grim atmosphere of New York for the sun-filled sky of Florida. While New York is integral to The Punisher, the change of setting in the film never feels as if it is a hindrance thanks to Thomas Jane’s devoted performance.
Before filming, Jane took part in a six-month-long NAVY SEAL training regiment; it becomes very apparent in his physique (gaining 20 lbs of muscle) and when he gets his hands wrapped around a weapon. If the training was not enough to convince you of his devotion, Thomas Jane did most of his stunts in the film as well. Emotionally, it’s easy to see echoes of Paul Kersey or Harry Callahan in his steely cool rage, but he manages to carve out his own space in the “man out for revenge” corner. Where Dolph Lundgren’s Frank Castle was a gun-wielding zombie towering over victims, Jane’s Punisher has the face of a man who has been stripped of everything and reborn to float through the world as a raw nerve.
Thomas Jane vs John Travolta
Opposite Thomas Jane is John Travolta as Howard Saint. At first, he felt like a lousy proxy for the well-known villain Kingpin. But through repeat viewings, it becomes clear that the character’s hammy-ness is more of a compensation for his frail ego. He comes across as an abhorrent monument crumpling in a sweaty panic. Around his wife and his underlings, he reeks of insecurities, clawing for control. While Frank Castle methodically tears his life apart, it becomes clear that he does not own his empire, his empire owns him. Once that empire implodes, his death is brutal and cathartic.
Those familiar with the comics will quickly recognize the supporting cast, which includes Spacker Dave (Ben Foster), Bumppo (John Pinette), and Joan (Rebecca Romijn). The three friends Frank Castle reluctantly meets in his apartment building provide brief instances of humor reminiscent of the comics. But more importantly, they offer Castle some way out of the pool of sadness he’s drowning in, they motivate him to become a “hero.” In a minor role that would be a disservice to go without acknowledging, is Roy Scheider as Frank Castle Sr. In the short time with him, you can see the type of man he raised Frank Castle to be as he jumps to action during the beach assault.
When you watch the film you’ll notice the supporting character Jimmy Weeks (A. Russel Andrews) disappears halfway through. This is only because his subplot was left on the cutting room floor and can only be found on the director’s cut. The subplot involves him being the reason Saint can locate Castle’s family, from there it takes a very dark turn. If you watch the director’s cut You’ll also find a prologue that centers around Frank’s and Jimmy’s time in the military. Deemed too expensive to film, Tim Bradstreet’s art and photographs were used to create a motion comic.
But How Ultimate is it?
The film turns Castle’s heartbreaking murder of his nuclear family into a cold-blooded killing of his entire family. This sets the stage for the rest of the violence in the film. Where most comic book adaptations give way to action steep in violence designed for spectacle, The Punisher goes in the opposite direction. There aren’t winners or losers, only survivors. With clarity, the audience is confronted with the blunt impact of the action. You can’t help but feel the influence of 1970s action films. It is even possible to find Hensliegh and cinematographer Conrad W. Hall ripping shots from Dirty Harry and using the cowboy shot several times throughout the film.
It would be criminal not to mention the standout fight featuring WWE legend Kevin Nash as The Russian. This fight is one of the many instances where we see Castle’s tolerance for pain and his ability to survive. Additionally, there’s the perfect use of their environment with a great sense of escalation that ends in one of the most gruesome images of the film. Practical effects and crude action give the violence a real sense of authenticity. With Taxi Driver, Scorsese likened Travis Bickle to a crab by having him move in very straight lines. Frank Castle resembles a shark, devouring everything in his path and only moving forward. Whether a knife to the mouth, an arrow to the neck, or boiling water to the face, each bit of cruelty sinks its teeth into you.
While bolstered by Thomas Jane’s outstanding performance in the titular role, The Punisher (2004) trades the explosiveness of the 1989 film for the unapologetic violence of the films that inspired the character. It avoids the beloved spectacle of comic book movies and goes for something much darker. The grim and bloody story might not cover any new ground, however, I don’t believe it wants to. It only cares more about the execution, and that’s all that matters.
Article By: Cameron Levins is a filmmaker, comic book lover and fight scene enthusiast. Ever since his dad showed him Bruce Lee as a kid, he became obsessed with action films. In his free time he’s either day dreaming about an action scene or researching fight choreographers. Follow Cameron on Twitter here.
A look back at how Gary Daniels’ Rage has become an ultimate classic of 1990s DTV entertainment.
Making an action film is a complex craft, and production company PM Entertainment deservedly entered the hall of fame of their guild. Their inspiration and drive to create astonishing action sequences catapulted them to the forefront of 1990s DTV actioners. Where many 100-million-dollar productions have the excitement level of a TV soap, PM showed what can be done with a fraction of that money.
In 1994, Speed gave us a bus that wouldn’t stop, and one year later PM followed up with a human in total overdrive mode. 1995’s Rage was the overture to PM’s and Gary Daniels’ fantastic triple-R trilogy (Riot and Recoil being the other two), so let’s have a look!
Elementary school teacher Alex (Daniels) is abducted by a group of rogue military scientists. He turns out to be the perfect subject to experiment on after many failures with Mexican immigrants and is turned into a killing machine. Not overly content with his fate, Alex uses his newly acquired superpowers to escape the lab and keep his numerous pursuers at bay.
“I’m just trying to stay alive!” “Do it on somebody else’s time!”
The plot inevitably is thin, as lots of room is required for the action sequences. After setting up the premise, Alex is chased by corrupt cops and a TV reporter, even though a right-wing conspiracy as well as some criticism of sensationalist media and consumerism (“In this city mall, people try to improve their life by buying whatever is offered to them.”) provide at least traces of originality.
Despite what the title may suggest, our British fugitive Alex is not really raging, but just trying to make it out alive of every peril director Joseph Merhi puts him in. And yet the film is almost constantly in mayhem mode, with a few breaks that do nothing for the story but provide some occasional comic relief.
I was a bit tired when I started to watch Rage again for this article, but after ten minutes it woke me up like the blackest of coffees. The film starts with Daniels giving an endearing portrayal of an incredibly kind elementary school teacher who wants to talk about monkeys but accidentally ends up profiling Jeffrey Dahmer.
After his abduction we see a laboratory with a hideous set design. It seems we might have landed in C-grade territory, but do not worry, this sequence marks the beginning of an action inferno. Daniels wakes up with superhuman powers, throws some guards and scientists through windows, perforates the rest with machine pistols akimbo, sets the whole place on fire, and gets his balls tasered.
He’s a Foreigner, a Limey. He don’t speak good English.
After that it’s showdown after showdown with three spectacular set pieces sticking out the most:
An explosive highway chase with two colliding rigs, a school bus and countless police cars flipping and spinning while engulfed in flames
Daniels (mostly his stunt double) hanging from the ledge of a skyscraper while getting shot at from a helicopter, falling onto a window cleaning platform, and from there all the way down to the ground and through a glass roof
A shootout in a shopping mall that pays homage to the Police Story mall fight. It’s less elaborate but compensates with more violence and even more people thrown through windows and down escalators. Also, the best video store in existence (it carries only PM titles) is razed to the ground.
The real star of the film: Spiro Razatos’ action unit
Daniels is a fine action hero and gets to do a couple of nice fights, but the real star of the film is the action crew led by legendary stunt choreographer Spiro Razatos. His people jump from burning trucks, pull off insane driving maneuvers, crazy high falls, and fight on a helicopter skid in mid-air, the list goes on and on.
It’s obvious that the stunt people put themselves at high risk during the production. In our time, greenscreens and CGI drastically reduce the dangers for them, and yet I’m glad films like Rage got made. Maybe it caters to our voyeuristic instincts, but I don’t care, it’s just all so awesome to watch!
PM Entertainment and Daniels can be proud of what they achieved with Rage, a spectacle that puts a lot of action blockbusters of its time to shame, and which has become an ultimate classic of 1990s DTV entertainment.
A look back at Corey Yuen’s beat ’em up video game ultimate actioner.
Most movie adaptations of Beat ‘Em Up video games have not been highlights of martial arts cinema, even though this is what we would expect this subgenre to deliver in abundance. Films like Double Dragon and Streetfighter are entertaining endeavors but were total fails as fight flicks. In 2006, it was up to no one less than grandmaster Corey Yuen to show the world how it’s done! Yuen gave a huge boost to US martial arts cinema with the first two No Retreat No Surrender films, and his last directorial effort so far in 2006 became another highlight of his career.
With DOA: Dead Or Alive he created a film based on a fight game where the action sequences finally do the game justice, so let’s have a look! The world’s best fighters are invited to a tropical island to fight for big money in the DOA tournament. But organizer Donovan (Eric Roberts) has a sinister plan that puts everyone on the island in danger.
“You’re beneath me.” “I sure would like to be.”
The Dead or Alive video game franchise became known for its oversexualized female fighters. The film thankfully dials this aspect back quite a bit (and earned a PG-13 rating), even though most female protagonists are lightly clad, and the camera occasionally captures the fighters in sexy angles. Criticism of objectification is justified here, but the movie never devolves into a voyeuristic experience. The counter perspective is that a group of strong, confident women are kicking (mostly) men’s asses, and embrace their femininity while doing it.
The main story features your typical 2000s biotech nonsense with nanobots and genetic experimentation. It lines up nicely with the several other subplots (romantic and/or revenge) that are also incredibly cheesy. Fortunately, the plot points are processed at breakneck speed and give plenty of space to the action sequences. The film puts a sugar coating on everything with a glossy, almost plastic look of the fantasy island, silly humor, and a flamboyant color palette, even the ninjas are purple!
I’ll put your double-dealing arse in the “D”-Column of Dead or Alive
The cast features no A-list actors, but everyone delivers a charming performance, and the occasional over- and -underacting works really well here. There’s plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor, with PG-13 approved sexual innuendo galore. Eric Roberts, as ever the charmer, gives a laid-back villain portrayal, and this vibe holds for all characters who are always having a good time, even during the fights.
Yuen’s creative vision is most visible in the action department, and he presents us furious sequences of high-caliber martial arts action. The duels truly radiate the energy of a fighting game, with slick visuals in a style similar to his The Transporter film. Action movies at the time demanded that fights were edited to look as flashy as possible, but Yuen managed to fulfill this requirement by staging the action sequences fast but not hectic, and smooth instead of choppy.
Cheerful Martial Arts Action in a Tropical Plastic Paradise
Fight after fight keeps coming, with a creative choreography, fantastic wirework and furious attacks. Everything retains a playful vibe, and there are even some fantastic whuppings by towels and pillows! The film also has the perfect length for a non-stop actioner, this undiluted spectacle clocks in at a crunchy 76 minutes.
DOA: Dead or Alive never pretends to be more than a giddy action comedy with an uplifting vibe that hopefully will put a big smile on your face. And thanks to its fantastic martial arts sequences it also became one of the best video game adaptations of all time!
The 1990s was one of the best periods for action movies, but some have been remembered for longer than others. At the time of its release, Broken Arrow was a box office hit. However, it’s rarely talked about these days, with John Travolta and Christian Slater having lost their status in the A-list category in Hollywood.
For anyone in search of a 1990s action epic that has it all, Broken Arrow is a great option to watch again. It has all the components that you need in a thrilling movie, including an exceptional cast and setting.
Broken Arrow One of John Woo’s Best
John Woo is one of the greatest action directors of all time, and it’s often hard to pinpoint what his best work is. Broken Arrow is somewhat of a forgotten gem, but many action fans who revisit it would put it down as one of his best.
Woo used two of the hottest 1990s action stars in the picture: Travolta as Major Vic “Deak” Deakins and Slater as Captain Riley Hale. The two start off as buddies in the United States Air Force but are then forced to face off against each other when Deakins tries to steal two nuclear bombs.
Along with the excellent chemistry between Travolta and Slater, Samantha Mathis was also lauded for her turn as Park Ranger Terry Carmichael. Hale and Terry form an unlikely alliance against Deakins and his formidable crew of criminals. It’s the classic underdog story, with the two joining forces to take down a highly organized band of terrorists. It’s a good against evil offering with a highly satisfying ending and a memorable showdown between Slater and Travolta.
Deep Mines Make Excellent Setting for Action Offerings
There’s no doubt that the setting of Broken Arrow added a lot to the film’s thrills. One of the best action sequences in the movie was when Hale and Terry took the warheads to an abandoned copper mine. The theory is that the mine is so deep that it could contain a nuclear blast. This scene leads to an amazing shootout and a getaway along an underground river.
Mines have frequently been used in the entertainment industry. They offer mystery and danger and have appeared in other cinematic offerings like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. They are prevalent in gaming. For instance, there a numerous mining mobile titles like Stone Miner and Deep Town. There are also many UK casino site games about mines, such as Misery Mining and Dynamite Riches. These titles feature deep caves on the thumbnail to attract players, and it’s clear that this theme is a popular one.
Broken Arrow had various other great scenes aside from the mine shootout, and the scenery in the picture is stunning. It was all filmed at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Kane County, Utah, which is renowned for its stunning landscape.
If you’re looking for a great action pic from the 1990s with two of its hottest stars at their peak, Broken Arrow is one of the best titles. This forgotten gem needs to be brought back and dusted off, as it is an absolute classic.