Showdown In Little Tokyo

Showdown in Little Tokyo

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Today’s feature is a b-grade buddy cop classic: 1991’s Showdown In Little Tokyo.

The plot of Showdown in Little Tokyo is summarized on Rotten Tomatoes as follows:

Dolph Lundgren stars as police detective Chris Kenner, an American raised in Japan. He is given a new partner, Johnny Murata (Brandon Lee, making his Hollywood debut), a Japanese raised in America. The two are made for each other — Chris doesn’t appreciate American culture, while Johnny doesn’t much like Japanese culture. One thing they both enjoy are the martial arts, of which they are experts. The two are assigned to L.A.’s Little Tokyo, trying to nab the notorious Yoshida (Carey-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a drug manufacturer using a local brewery as his distribution center.

Showdown in Little Tokyo was directed and produced by Mark L. Lester, who was also behind movies such as Class of 1999, Class of 1984, Commando, Roller Boogie, and Firestarter.

The two writers for the film only have a handful of other credits between them, most notably a couple of episodes of Dragnet and a television adaptation of The Watsons Go To Birmingham.

The cinematographer for Showdown In Little Tokyo was Mark Irwin, who shot Scream, Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly, Class of 1999, RoboCop 2, New Nightmare, Kingpin, and Steel, among many, many other well-known features.

A total of four editors wound up putting in work on Showdown in Little Tokyo: Michael Eliot (Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence), Robert A. Ferretti (Tango & Cash, Rocky V, Die Hard 2, Gymkata), Steven Kemper (Face/Off, Timecop), and Stuart Baird (Demolition Man, Lethal Weapon).

The musical score for the movie was provided by David Michael Frank, whose other credits include Poison Ivy, Suburban Commando, Out For Justice, Hard To Kill, and Best of the Best II.

The cast for Showdown In Little Tokyo is primarily made up by Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, The Punisher, I Come In Peace, Johnny Mnemonic), the late Brandon Lee (Laser Mission, The Crow), Tia Carrere (Wayne’s World, Kull The Conqueror), and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat, Vampires, The Phantom).

littletokyo3Showdown In Little Tokyo suffered from a significant amount of studio interference, primarily in the form of mandated edits to the final product. Likewise, even before the movie was shot, the screenplay went through a number of different forms. The experience burned director Mark Lester out on working in the studio system, leading him to take on smaller, self-funded projects.

The public reception for Showdown In Little Tokyo was generally negative. It currently holds Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 29% from critics and 51% from audiences, alongside an IMDb user rating of 6.0. Likewise, the movie certainly didn’t set the box office on fire: it brought in well under $3 million in its theatrical release, on a estimated production budget of $8 million.

I was introduced to Showdown in Little Tokyo pretty recently. For whatever reason, it has never been on my b-movie radar, and I have absolutely no idea why. As far as cheap, b-level action movies go, this is about as good as it gets. Not only does this movie showcase a classic buddy-cop formula, but the fights are entertaining, the antagonist is more than sufficiently hammy, and all of the players seem to be having a great time with the material. I’m a huge fan of this particular era of Dolph Lundgren, as he took on some damn entertaining projects, and gave performances that I think easily out-class contemporaries like Stallone or Schwarzenegger, and Showdown is no exception.

littletokyo2There is one aspect of Showdown In Little Tokyo that definitely makes it stand out from the field of similar action flicks: outside of perhaps Tango & Cash, it is the most homoerotic entry into the buddy cop genre.

Showdown in Little Tokyo doesn’t bill itself as a gay action film. And like most action movies, that doesn’t do much to disarm just how amazingly queer it is. I mean, we’re talking about a movie where a muscular blonde guy spends entire scenes clad in nothing but black leather hot pants and men compliment each other on the exquisiteness of their dicks

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That excerpt is no exaggeration, either. In one particularly notable moment in the film, Brandon Lee tells Dolph Lundgren that he has “the biggest dick I’ve ever seen on a man,” and the script and performances are both laden with slightly more subtle references to the two men having a potential attraction.

Much like with Tango & Cash, it isn’t totally clear if this angle was intentional on the part of the writer/director team (though the penis line seems pretty blatant). Regardless, the chemistry of the subtext adds a lot of entertainment value to what is already an amusing, saturated-with-machismo buddy-cop feature.

I can’t recommend Showdown In Little Tokyo highly enough. Not only is the action good, but the performances are memorable, the plot is over-the-top, and even the costuming got a few chuckles out of me. This is the pinnacle of a specific type of b-movie film-making, and it’ll take you on a time-traveling trip to a bygone era. The comedic performance of Brandon Lee brings up a lot of questions of what might have been if the fates had taken another turn, and Lundgren is still in his top form here. The homoerotic angle of the films adds a whole extra layer of entertainment value, whether it is read as intentional and subversive, or just hilariously oblivious on the part of the creative team. Either way, I think it is hard not to find something to enjoy on a re-watch of Showdown in Little Tokyo.

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Critters

Critters

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Today’s feature is 1986’s Critters, which is not at all a knock-off of the 1980s classic, Gremlins. Not at all.

The plot of Critters is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A race of small, furry aliens make lunch out of the locals in a farming town.

Critters was co-written and directed by Stephen Herek, who went on to make The Mighty Ducks, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Holy Man, 101 Dalmatians, and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead, among others. His co-writer for the movie was Domonic Muir, who also wrote The Gingerdead Man and the first three Evil Bong movies.

The director of photography for the movie was Tim Suhrstedt, whose long list of credits includes Idiocracy, Little Miss Sunshine, Office Space, Men At Work, Teen Wolf, Mystic Pizza, and Mannequin.

Critters was edited by Larry Bock, who also cut movies like Breakin’, Alligator, Joysticks, Final Justice, Bring It On, The Mighty Ducks, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and The Santa Clause over his career.

The creature effects for the movie were provided by Chiodo Brothers Productions, whose members also worked on Robot Jox, Critters 2, Demolition Man, Critters 3, Carnosaur, Critters 4, Team America: World Police, Screamers, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Ghoulies, RoboCop 2, and Theodore Rex, among many others.

critters2The visual effects work for Critters was done by two outfits: Fantasy II Effects, which has gone on to work on Moonrise Kingdom, Vampire in Brooklyn, Hellboy, The Core, Last Action Hero, Aliens, and Tremors (and more) in the years since, and Quick Silver FX Studio, which also did Eliminators and Invasion Earth: The Aliens Are Here before apparently dropping off the radar.

The music for Critters was composed by David Newman, who went on to score numerous films, like Death To Smoochy, The Brave Little Toaster, Heathers, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Hoffa, Jingle All The Way, Galaxy Quest, Throw Momma From The Train, Matilda, The Phantom, Ice Age, and The Spirit, among many, many others.

Critters stars Billy Zane (Titanic, The Phantom, Brotherhood of Justice, Demon Knight), Dee Wallace (The Howling, Cujo, E.T.), Billy Green Bush (The Hitcher, Five Easy Pieces), Scott Grimes (E.R.), and Lin Shaye (Pledge This, Kingpin).

Financially, Critters made a decent profit, grossing just over $13 million domestically on an estimated $2 million budget.

Critters received a generally negative response from both critics and audiences. Currently, it holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 57% from critics and 45% audiences, along with an IMDb user rating og 6.0/10.

Interestingly, one of the handful of critics to give Critters a seal of approval was Roger Ebert, who gave the movie 3 stars:

…what’s interesting is the way the movie refuses to be just a thriller…What makes “Critters” more than a ripoff are its humor and its sense of style. This is a movie made by people who must have had fun making it.

Personally, I agree with Ebert on this to a point. The fact that Critters doesn’t play itself as a straight monster movie does set itself out from a lot of other science fiction, but it also feels very Gremlins. The fact that the monsters here aren’t as emotive or intriguing as their higher-budget cousins doesn’t help, either: they are a little too similar, and Critters doesn’t come close to matching the quality of the humor, gore, dread, or nostalgic awe on display in Gremlins.

I think Critters probably plays better today, with a fair amount of distance from its cohort films like Ghoulies and Gremlins, than it did on its initial release. A lot of the aspects that drew unfavorable comparisons back then feel more like homages than ripoffs when you watch it today. That said, no amount of time or distance passed is going to make this movie good. There are definitely some comedic highlights, but the uneven performances and stilted dialogue hinder the movie as a whole. I will say that this makes for a pretty even waypoint between Leprechaun and Gremlins when it comes to the scale of success of horror-comedies, so it could certainly be a lot worse. Also, the eponymous Critters themselves aren’t too shabby: there are some moments of really excellent puppet work.

critters3If you are looking for a little 1980s flashback, this is a decent movie to serve that purpose. It isn’t great, or even terribly memorable, but it is entertaining enough to justify your time.

Creepshow 2

Creepshow 2

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Today’s feature is Creepshow 2, the 1987 sequel to the hit anthology horror film, Creepshow.

The plot of Creepshow 2 is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Three more bone-chilling tales that include a vengeful wooden Native American, a monstrous blob in a lake, and a hitchhiker who wants revenge and will not die.

Creepshow 2 was directed by Michael Gornick, who served as George Romero’s director of photography on Martin, Dawn of the Dead, and the original Creepshow. However, Creepshow 2 is his only feature-length directing credit.

The movie’s screenplay was written by George Romero, who directed the original Creepshow (as well as influential horror films like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead). Interestingly, he didn’t have any hand in the writing of Creepshow, as Stephen King penned the screenplay. While King did lend material for Creepshow 2, he was not involved with the sequel’s screenplay writing process beyond that.

The special effects and makeup effects team for the film provided early credits for Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, who have each had distinguished careers in the decades since, working on films and television shows like Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds, The Hateful Eight, Drag Me To Hell, Sin City, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead.

Tom Savini, who provided the effects for the original Creepshow, returned as a consultant for this sequel, and appears on screen as the host between segments.

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The stars of Creepshow 2 include George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), Tom Savini (From Dusk Til Dawn), Stephen King (Creepshow), Daniel Beer (Point Break), and Lois Chiles (Moonraker).

Apparently, Creepshow 2 was initially intended to have 5 sequences, just like its predecessor. However, budget constraints led to two sequences being cut. One of them, “The Cat From Hell,” eventually made it on screen as part of Tales From The Darkside: The Movie, which many consider to be the spiritual successor to Creepshow 2.

In 2006, a Creepshow 3 was released without any involvement from George Romero or Stephen King. The fan reaction, predictably, was overwhelmingly negative. However, its release was so limited that most fans of the franchise aren’t aware of its existence.

The reception to Creepshow 2 was generally negative, and paled significantly in comparison to the original. It currently holds an IMDb user rating of 6.0/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 39% from audiences and 33% from critics.

Creepshow 2 took in an estimated $14 million in its total lifetime theatrical release. While this was profitable given its $3.5 million budget, it was hardly a blockbuster smash.

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The biggest burden that Creepshow 2 has to carry is the baggage of its namesake. Honestly, I think this is a pretty decent horror anthology movie, but it so fails to live up to the affectionate detail and loyalty of the original Creepshow, that it is actually made worse by bearing its name.

The original Creepshow is fun, funny, and did a whole lot on a very small budget, thanks to a scrappy, independent crew. Creepshow 2 was expected to match it with a fraction of its budget, a director without a track record, and without the direct help of Stephen King on the screenplay. From the onset, the die was cast for Creepshow 2 to be a disappointing sequel.

Yet, while it certainly isn’t as good as Creepshow, Creepshow 2 could certainly have been a lot worse. Most of the makeup effects actually look quite good in spite of the budgetary limits, thanks in large part to folks like Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, who were still making names for themselves as quality and innovative effects workers. The writing is probably the weakest aspect of the movie, but I suspect this is the result of the last 2 sequences being cut out of the film: they needed to make up that time somewhere, so they padded out the existing features. Unfortunately, the result is that all 3 remaining vignettes feel bloated as all hell, and the pacing of the film as a whole suffers for it.

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Creepshow 2 desperately misses a bunch of the little details that really defined the original movie, too. While there is an attempt to recreate the animated transitions, the result isn’t creepy as much as it is cartoony and goofy, and the style just seems a bit off. Likewise, there is a limited attempt to re-capture the creative and vivid lighting work from the first film, but it is definitely minimal. The dramatically limited death sequences from Creepshow, for instance, don’t make a return.

I think the key to enjoying Creepshow 2 is to manage expectations, and ignore its title. When stacked up against Creepshow, it just can’t compare. However, I think it is better than similar anthology films like Cat’s Eye, and is worth checking out for horror fans, at least for the effects work. However, that does come with a massive caveat.

There is something that absolutely has to be mentioned about this movie: it features the most egregiously inappropriate and unnecessary sexual assault I have ever seen in a major motion picture. During the segment “The Raft,” two characters (a woman and a man) are trapped on a raft in the middle of a lake, set a-siege by a flesh-eating blob that floats on top of the lake’s water. By the time night falls, both of their respective partners have been eaten by the creature, and they decide to take shifts to keep watch. During the male’s shift, he decides not to watch the monster, but to kiss and fondle his fellow trapped acquaintance in her sleep, which leads directly to her death via his negligence.

There are so many things wrong with this, that it is hard to know where to start. First off, pragmatically, it was also in his interest to keep an eye on the killer monster lurking mere feet away, rather than assault his fellow captive. Secondly, from a writing standpoint, there was no established precedence for the action: the character was never shown in a negative light, or revealed to have salacious intent towards the woman. The action is completely out of nowhere, and turns the character into something totally different than he was established as: a cautious, science-obsessed quasi-dork who plays second fiddle to an alpha jock friend. Last but not least, what the ever-loving fuck was the point of it? This kind of casual sexual assault is way too common throughout the genre, and contributes to the genre as a whole having a reputation as a tone-deaf dudes’ club. Particularly without any kind of story or character justification, this was clearly just thrown in for the hell of it, and was even tossed into the movie’s trailer to boot. The ultimate result of the sequence is that the monster is able to sneak up on the pair, which would happen anyway if they had just fallen asleep of exhaustion. It isn’t like there wasn’t an obvious alternative here.

If Creepshow 2 were absent that short sequence, I could confidently recommend it to people. As it is, however, it merits that caution.

Lifepod

Lifepod

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Today’s feature is an ambitious remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, with a science fiction twist: 1993’s Lifepod.

Lifepod was directed by the well-regarded character actor Ron Silver, who is best known for movies like Timecop and The West Wing. However, it was his only directorial feature over his career.

The screenplay adaptation for Lifepod is credited to producers Jay Roach and Pen Densham, who each have a handful of television writing credits for shows like Space Rangers and Poltergeist: The Legacy.

The cast for Lifepod includes director Ron Silver, Robert Loggia (Over The Top, Scarface), and C.C.H. Pounder (Face/Off, RoboCop 3), among others.

The score composition for the movie was done by Mark Mancina, who was in a bit of a transitional period at the time. Before Lifepod, his credits included primary low-budget fare like Space Mutiny. Following Lifepod, however, he got the chance to dictate the music on some much larger productions, such as Speed, Speed 2: Cruise Control, Bad Boys, Twister, Con Air, Tarzan, and Training Day.

Alan Baumgartner served as the film’s primary editor, whose credits since include comedies like Zombieland, Meet The Fockers, and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, as well as more recently acclaimed movies like American Hustle, Trumbo, and Joy.

Lifepod was made specifically for television broadcast, and was first debuted on June 28, 1993 on Fox. It currently holds an IMDb user rating of 5.9/10, which, while far from stellar, could certainly be much worse.

The plot of Lifepod is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Remaking a Hitchcock movie well is a difficult task to say the least: some could argue that even Hitchcock himself wasn’t very good at it (I personally prefer the first Man Who Knew Too Much). So, when I first heard about the oddity that is Lifepod, I knew I had to check it out. Shifting the setting and genre for a remake can yield interesting results, and distance the remake enough from the original that it isn’t judged as harshly as it could be. On top of that, these kinds of shifts can allow the writers and director a little more creativity with the material.

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In the case of Lifepod, I think that this source material is uniquely suited to this particular re-imagining. The similarities of being lost at sea and being adrift in space are notable, and the interpersonal tensions intrinsic to the story are universal in such a way that the temporal setting doesn’t impact their potency: betrayal is just as shocking and painful in the 30th century as in the 20th.

Lifepod isn’t a masterpiece by any means. Not only are there some mediocre effects and performances, but the pacing isn’t great, and the music doesn’t do a very good job of building the necessary tension to make the story really punch. That said, there are enough compelling moments to make this movie worth watching, beyond its gimmicky value as a Hitchcock remake in space. Silver in particular gives a memorable performance, and the cast (for the most part) play pretty well off of each other. The set design is also pretty decent, though I wish the pod had more of a claustrophobic feel to it: it is hard to tell just how big it is throughout the movie. In general, however, this is definitely a stand-out as far as television movies go.