Return to Nuke Em High Volume. 1 (2013) Review

Posted in Return to Nuke Em High Volume. 1 with tags , , on March 31, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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RETURN TO NUKE EM HIGH VOL. 1

**** Out of 5

Tagline- Readin, Writin, Radiation, Again

Release Date- June 30th, 2013 (Limited)

Running Time- 85-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Travis Campbell, Derek Dressler & Lloyd Kaufman

Director- Lloyd Kaufman

Starring- Asta Paredes, Catherine Corcoran, Clay von Carlowitz, Stefan Dezil, Zac Amico and Lloyd Kaufman

When it comes to Troma Entertainment I don’t think people fully realize sometimes just what Lloyd Kaufman pulled off with his low budget studio. I suppose the films of Troma are an acquired taste. They aren’t meant to be good films in the traditional sense as they’re silly with cartoonish violence and gore with absurd plots and in some cases perhaps even offensive to some. When you go back to the 30s with Poverty Row, which despite what some people think wasn’t an actual studio, but a slang term for low budget studios. Despite some success all the Poverty Row studios folded. AIP, Cannon and Film Ventures all closed their doors and even big studios such as New Line Cinema folded (New Line is now owned by Warner Brothers). But yet Troma was able to carry on and while the studio may have run into financial troubles they still stayed in operation. Lloyd Kaufman as a director will never be mistaken for Martin Scorsese, but Kaufman, like his studio is highly influential and filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino was inspired by Lloyd Kaufman. There’s a good reason why Troma stayed in business when other studios closed down and there’s good reason why Lloyd Kaufman is cult icon and influential filmmaker.

I can’t remember when I first got into Troma, but it was in the 80s or early part of the 90s and I would watch their films on a regular basis, but over the years I did sort of lose touch with Troma and it was back around 2003 when I saw Terror Firmer and Tromeo and Juliet and after that I again lost touch and here we are with Return to Nuke Em High, which was released in the UK in 2013 and than in NYC on January 10th, 2014 and the marketing was for the 40th Anniversary of the company, which formed 1974.

When a food company sells contaminated food to a nearby high school it turns the glee club into mutant cretins and its up to two girls to stop them.

The screenplay was written by Travis Campbell, Derek Dressler & Lloyd Kaufman and the script is a lot of fun and has a great flow to it. A lot of writers try and channel their inner Troma and more often than not the script feels forced, but again everything here flows naturally. The script is constantly funny and characters are highly entertaining. The script isn’t meant to be taken seriously as its just meant to be fun and from start to finish it very much succeeds.

As director Lloyd Kaufman crafts another Troma classic as the film is well paced and fun throughout. Return to Nuke Em High gets off to a fun start and the fun factor never once let’s up as each scene is as fun as the last the film only runs at 85-minutes (78 if we discount closing credits). As I mentioned about how many writers tried to follow the Troma formula and weren’t very successful the same can be said about many directors. I really wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest as Kaufman is far removed from many of the films that shaped the company, but Lloyd Kaufman can still very much deliver and Return to Nuke Em High Vol. 1 would easily rate in my top 3 Troma films along with the Toxic Avenger and Tromeo and Juliet. Even after all these years since Toxic Avenger and as much as changed in film, Lloyd Kaufman unlike many filmmakers as their career goes on shows he still very much knows what his audience wants to see from nudity to over the top gore and just overall craziness.

Performances are what you’d expect from a Troma film and most of the cast play their roles over the top as meant to be. However Asta Paredes and Catherine Corcoran are simply terrific and both are quite stunningly beautiful as well, but both Paredes and Corcoran were excellent and I’d rate them as the best actresses I’ve seen in a Troma film along with Tiffany Shepis and Debbie Rochon (who has a bit part). But I was very much surprised by how great these two women were in particular Asta Paredes. Also a standout was Stefan Dezil who for the most part plays his role straight, which is even funnier seeing as how absurd everything is. But these three actors were truly wonderful. However the clear standout star was Kevin the Wonder Duck who had me hanging to his every quack. I see special things in Kevin’s future. Perhaps an Oscar? And his chemistry with Catherine Corcoran will never be topped in any film!

Overall Return to Nuke Em High Vol. 1 is a terrific return for Troma as this film has everything Troma fans have come to expect. This one easily rates in my top 3 Troma films and I think fans will very much be pleased with the end result.

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L.A. Law Season 1 (1986-1987) Review Vol. 2

Posted in L.A. Law Season 1: Vol. 2 with tags , , , on March 26, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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L.A. LAW SEASON 1

*** ½ Out of 5

Starring- Harry Hamlin, Susan Dey, Corbin Bernsen, Jill Eikenberry, Alan Rachins, Michele Greene, Jimmy Smits, Michael Tucker, Susan Ruttan and Richard Dysart

The 2nd half of L.A. Law got off to a good start and while they may not have been the best episodes of the series we are seeing more and more development of things to come in not just the remainder of the season, but future seasons. The 2nd half was a bit more consistent, though like any full season there were a couple of weaker episodes here as well. The 2nd half had a lot of great character moments and Roxanne who in the first half was more or less there begins to get more depth. Roxanne along with Kuzak and Brackman is my favorite as there’s something sweet and lovable about Roxanne and it was nice to see her get more character moments. During the course of season 1 it went from a good show to a great show and things would get better over the course of the series. Season 1 isn’t perfect, but its a terrific season when all is said and done.

L.A. Law was never released on DVD in the States until February 25th, 2014 when Shout Factory finally put it out and as I watch the first season what surprises me is how well the series holds up. Obviously certain things will be dated such as styles (clothes, hair). But the actual show holds up well and I think the show as written wouldn’t feel out of place and if anything only minor touch ups would be needed. Really the only thing that would hurt the show is how many times its been borrowed from with other shows.

Here are some of the major plots of the 2nd half.

After the suicide of fellow lawyer Sid Hershberg (Thomas Ryan), Kuzak takes up his cases and the pressure of being overworked gets to him. Thomas Ryan would later return to L.A. Law during its 8th and final season for one episode playing another character of course.

Douglas finds himself in hot water when his wife Sheila finds out he’s cheating and wants a divorce. The relationship between Douglas and Sheila while dysfunctional was also quite hysterical and added a lot of fun moments over the course of not just season 1, but future seasons. The role of Sheila Brackman was played by Joanna Frank who is also Alan Rachins’ real life wife. She’s also the older sister of Steven Bochco.

Kelsey gets a big time client and a win could score millions for the firm. Stuart is jealous of the time Kelsey is spending with her client which puts a slight rift on their relationship.

Victor confronts a judge that seems to let white people off on lighter sentences than he does minorities. However the judge has some stats to show Victor on he handles his cases when it comes to Hispanics.

Abby has a first solo appearance in court and it goes poorly and she begins to question herself on if she’s good enough to be a trial lawyer. Victor tries to cheer her up and Douglas gets involved and Victor tries to stop him, but to his surprise, Brackman offers words of encouragement.

Victor passes over a case to Abby set for trial after some self doubt she ends up taking it and represents Benny Stulwicz a mentally challenged man accused of assault and robbery.

The firm mulls over a deal with a NY firm for a mergence. Kelsey, Becker and Brackman are for it while Stuart and Kuzak oppose.

Grace finally gets out of night court detail and her first case back in day court is prosecuting a man accused of stealing bull seaman in a truly hysterical case!

Becker’s scheming ways backfires as his client ends up shooting and wounding her husband and this was a big character moment for Becker as we see again as much of a jerk he can be he’s also caring.

For all she does for Becker at the firm as well as personal errands, Roxanne asks for a raise, but Becker refuses, which causes a rift between them.

Grace gets a guilty verdict on a gang member for murder and seeks the death penalty. A hit is than put out on Grace.

After being Shot, Grace is an emotional wreck though she tries to remain strong and starts to resent the overprotective nature from her co-workers to Kuzak

Unhappy with getting older and being bald, Brackman gets a hair piece, but it doesn’t last long since he’s met with laughter.

Brackman gets into a dispute with a neighbor who is suing him over the excessive barking of his dog. Brackman wins his case, but later finds his dog poisoned.

Kuzak takes a case where a woman claims she was date raped by a college basketball star and Kuzak is urged to settle since its a no win, but he forges ahead, but even Kuzak wonders if his client shares some of the blame until another woman comes forward claiming the same guy raped her.

Here are my ratings for the 2nd half episodes.

Episode 12: Sidney, the Dead-Nosed Reindeer- ***

Episode 13: Prince Kuzak in a Can- *** ½

Episode 14: The Douglas Fur Ball- *** ½

Episode 15: December Bride- *** ½

Episode 16: Beef Jerky- **** ½

Episode 17: Becker on the Rox- ****
This episode would introduce Larry Drake as Benny Stulwicz. Drake would become a series regular in season 2 and remain with the show throughout its run.

Episode 18: Fifty Ways to Floss Your Lover- **** ½

Episode 19: The Grace of Wrath- *** ½

Episode 20: Sparky Brackmam R.I.P.- ****

Episode 21: Oy Vey! Wilderness!- ***

Episode 22: Pigmalion- *** ½

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L.A. Law Season 1 (1986-1987) Review Vol. 1

Posted in L.A. Law Season 1: Vol 1 with tags , , , on March 25, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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L.A. LAW SEASON 1

*** ½ Out of 5

Premiere Date: September 15th, 1986

Starring- Harry Hamlin, Susan Dey, Corbin Bernsen, Jill Eikenberry, Alan Rachins, Michele Greene, Jimmy Smits, Michael Tucker, Susan Ruttan and Richard Dysart

(I’ll be breaking down the first season in two blogs since it would be much too long for 1 blog).

L.A. Law ran for 8 seasons (1986-1994) on NBC and was one of the most successful shows of all time winning various awards during its run. The series was created by Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues) and Terry Louise Fisher. Season 1 of L.A. Law was very good, but the show was developing during its first season and while there weren’t any episodes I would say were poor, but some were better than others. In my opinion through the first 5 seasons the show would get better and better and I personally find seasons 4 & 5 amongst the best seasons any show had. Season 6 struggled in the first half, but had a great 2nd half, but all that is for another review. I don’t wanna undersell the first season, which again was very good, but between the first 6 seasons, perhaps this might be the weakest, but again its still a terrific season that was still finding its formula for success and during the first season it very much hit its stride and became a great season.

L.A. Law holds up as a powerful drama and while certain cases may not be as controversial as they were in 1986, but for the most part L.A. Law still packs a punch with subject matters that I think will always remain relevant. What I love about L.A. Law is the moral side of the show. There are times the lawyers represent someone know they is guilty, but its their job to give that person a fair representation. And I believe in that as well due to the fact what’s to stop an innocent person from not getting a fair trial?

Some of the plots range from light to serious. We follow a group of lawyers at McKenzie-Brackman-Chaney & Kuzak. The firm is lead by senior partner Leland McKenzie and new to the firm are Abigail Perkins (Greene) and Victor Sifuentes (Smits).

While the shows focuses on all the characters I’d say Michael Kuzak (Hamlin) would be seen as the lead. The Pilot episode has Michael Kuzak defending a man who along with two others raped a woman. Each suspect has their own lawyer and the guy Kuzak is defending, his father has put a lot of money into the firm and Kuzak has little choice, but to defend him. Like most rapes cases the victim is put on trial and while one lawyer is attacking her its clearly bothering Kuzak. L.A. Law is quite interesting in the morality aspect since like in this case, Kuzak knows the guy is guilty, but he has to do his job and as he says “I may not always believe in the client, but I have to believe in the system”. In some episodes they win their cases, but helped someone they know is guilty go free, which is something rarely seen in these kind of shows and at times they truly believe in their client only to find out they were wrong and this does have an effect on the characters.

Within the first 11 episodes the show was strong, but there was potential here for the making of a classic show. Some of the main plots revolve around Kuzak meeting ADA Grace Van Owen (Dey) and my only problem is they fall for each other too quickly. Most of their scenes are Kuzak flirting and asking Grace out and she keeps saying no since she’s engaged to a man she likes, but doesn’t love. Episode 5 Simian Chanted Evening has Kuzak crashing Grace’s wedding in a gorilla suit in a quite funny ending and that episode is the start of their relationship, which would play a major role through the first 5 seasons (Hamlin would exit after the 5th and Susan Dey after the 6th). However their relationship would again play a major role in the 2002 L.A. Law TV movie.

Another relationship being developed in the first few episodes is between Anne Kelsey (Eikenberry) and Stuart Markowitz (Tucker) and while they seem like an unlikely couple on the show, Tucker and Eikenberry are actually married in real life. Another plot has both hoping to make partnership at the firm.

Arnold ‘Arnie’ Becker (Bernsen) is the sleazy womanizer who more often than not gets involved with his clients, which causes some jealousy from Roxanne (Ruttan) who is in love with Becker. While its implied its made more clear when Becker gets dumped by a woman he actually liked. Becker is kind of arrogant, but yet still likable and we do see a softer side of him at certain times during the season. The story between Roxanne and Becker would be pivotal in future seasons. Another plot with Becker has his parents getting a divorce and both want him as their lawyer.

Abby Perkins is getting a divorce from her husband who is abusing her physically and mentally and she hires her co-worker Arnie Becker. Abby’s husband ends up abducting their child and Abby is frantically trying to find her son while also focusing on her job.

Victor defends a 13-year old girl accused of killing her brother who she says was raping her and as Victor digs deeper he finds out her father was sexually abusing both her and her brother.

Kuzak represents a man on death row for raping and killing a woman and also killing her husband. Kuzak takes the case since he’s opposed to the death penalty. He than learns the arrest and confession may not have been legal and gets the man out on bail. This was quite interesting as Kuzak angers some of his co-workers and even Grace by defending the guy and getting him out. As much as I loved Kuzak as he’s generally good person with a lot of strong morals he could be a little self righteous in his beliefs. But he believes in the law system and even though the guy was guilty what will stop others who are innocent from getting a fair trial? Though when all is said and done Kuzak confesses to Grace that if this guy committed another rape and or murder he wouldn’t be able to live with himself.

After a dispute with Leland, Victor considers leaving the firm.

Douglas Brackman (Rachins) is an insensitive jerk who’s out for money and always trying to save a penny. However rather than dislike Douglas you can’t help but love him as Alan Rachins in such a terrific actor and a lot of the lighter stuff on the show involves Douglas. We learn Douglas is a slumlord though he had no idea on the conditions these people were living in and we see that despite his antics he is a caring person. There is a slight change in Douglas where he’s a lot more polite though it thankfully doesn’t last long as soon he’s back to the classic lovable jerk.

Through the first 11 episodes L.A. Law was a terrific mix of drama and comedy, but it also had its ups and downs during this time as well, but the potential was clearly there. After the Pilot, which in my opinion is one of the most gripping episodes of any series I’ve ever seen, is when it struggled a little bit in finding its identity, but soon enough L.A. Law begins to hit its stride and becomes a powerful and gripping show and its easy to see why it was so acclaimed.

Its quite difficult to pick a favorite character since all of them are terrific. But if I had to pick it would be either Michael Kuzak or Douglas Brackman.

Here are my ratings for the first 11 episodes.

Episode 1: Pilot- **** ½

Episode 2: Those Lips, That Eye- ***

Episode 3: The House of Rising Flan- ***

Episode 4: The Princess and the Wiener King- ****

Episode 5: Simian Chanted Evening- ***
This was the first episode written by David E. Kelley who would write 68 episodes of the series and ended up becoming the main creative force behind the show and would exit after the 5th, but with subpar reviews for season 6, both Kelley and Bochco returned for the 2nd half of season 6 and got the series back on track and both would again exit after the 6th.

Episode 6: Slum Enchanted Evening- *** ½

Episode 7: Raiders of the Lost Bark- **** ½
In someways this was a turning point for the series. While maybe not every episode that followed was great, but this episode is the kind L.A. Law would be known for as its both dramatic and funny.

Episode 8: Gibbon Take- *** ½

Episode 9: Venus Butterfly- **** ½

Episode 10: Fry me to the Moon- *** ½
(Becker’s mother is played by Corbin Bernsen’s real life mother Jeanne Cooper best known from her time on the Young and the Restless).

Episode 11: El Sid- *** ½

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Death Wish 3 (1985) Review

Posted in Death Wish 3 with tags , , , , , , on March 19, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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DEATH WISH 3

**** Out of 5

Tagline- He’s Judge, Jury and Executioner

Release Date- November 1st, 1985

Running Time- 90-Minutes

Rating- R

Screenplay- Michael Edmonds (Don Jakoby)

Director- Michael Winner

Starring- Charles Bronson, Ed Lauter, Deborah Raffin, Joseph Gonzalez with Gavan O’Herlihy and Martin Balsam as Bennett

Released in 1985 Death Wish 3 took the series in a new direction though has enough elements to still sort of feel like a Death Wish film whereas the 4th film to me sort of felt unrelated, but I suppose the same can be said about this one in many ways as when breaking the film down it is quite removed from the first two, but again I do feel as if there is enough of a connection to link in with the previous two. The first two were crime/dramas whereas Death Wish 3 is sort of the standard 80s action film made by Cannon Films at the time and can be seen as an exploitation film. The original Death Wish is by far the best of the series however I thought Death Wish II was a little more fun, but Death Wish 3 was by far the most entertaining of the series. Death Wish 3 isn’t exactly high quality cinema, but its one of the most fun filled films I’ve ever seen. Death Wish 3 has all the great cult classic aspects, silly dialogue, crazy action scenes and a mid 60s Charles Bronson hooking up with a woman half his age and killing people half his age. The final act to Death Wish 3 is off the wall insane and I remember when I first watched it I couldn’t help but yell out this is the greatest movie ever! Ok so I guess I wouldn’t go that far, but again Death Wish 3 is for me easily one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen.

Whenever I write or talk about the Death Wish series I always mention how the original is the holy grail of the vigilante film. As much as I love the original I would give a very slight edge to William Lustig’s Vigilante, but that’s another subject. Death Wish is the film that forever shaped the vigilante film and as long as they’re made it will always come back to Death Wish. When the original was released in 1974 and at the time Charles Bronson while a successful actor was mostly a supporting actor or if a lead role such as Once Upon a Time in the West he was more co-lead I suppose. But after Death Wish, Bronson became a lead actor with a number of hits, but when Death Wish II came along a lot of his films weren’t big hits and that’s why he reprised the role (plus the nice payday). By the time Death Wish 3 came around in 1985, Bronson again was in need of a hit as his films even if turning a profit weren’t as successful as his past films right after Death Wish and outside of Death Wish II he only had moderate success. As much as I love Death Wish 3 I think its clear Bronson took the role to have a hit and a payday as he does seem to be going through the motions, but Bronson had such a screen presence he’s again excellent as Paul Kersey.

Paul Kersey (Bronson) returns to NY to visit a friend in Brooklyn, but when he arrives he finds his friend badly beaten and on the verge of death. The cops bust in and arrest Kersey; after spending a few hours in prison he’s released, but is now working for Lt. Shriker (Lauter) on taking down the gang that is terrorizing the neighborhood.

The screenplay was written by Don Jakoby under the name Michael Edmonds and Jakoby has written such films as Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars (both for Cannon) and Arachnophobia and John Carpenter’s Vampires. The screenplay is a total blast filled with silly dialogue and extremely fun characters as they all add to the craziness of the film. This time around the thugs are a little more organized well to some degree. With often funny dialogue, entertaining characters, Death Wish 3 may not exactly feature great writing in the traditional sense, but its so much fun and that very much elevates the screenplay. Death Wish 3 is comedic gold and while I’m sure most of the comedy was intentional a lot of it however wasn’t. Lets face it Death Wish 3 will never be mistaken with Oscar worthy material, but the script by Edmonds is just a complete blast.

Here are some of the highlights.

While eating dinner with some neighbors, Kersey goes outside to confront two gang members.

Hey, what’s the problem

What?

With the car, what’s the problem?

Just get outta my fucking face. Who are you?

We’re stealing a fucking car, what’s it to you?

Its my car

After that exchange, Kersey kills the two thugs and goes back inside to eat dinner.

More great dialogue moments.

Its like killing roaches you have to kill them all, otherwise what’s the use?

I hope you like chicken. Its the only thing I know how to make.

Chicken’s good. I like chicken.

They killed the Giggler man, they killed the Giggler.

They had no business doing that. None.

Director Michael Winner once again directs and after this he would leave the series. Winner has stated he wanted to make a lighter film than the first two. While Death Wish II was serious it also had a fun tone even if it wasn’t meant to be light. With Death Wish 3 I assume Michael Winner was making more of a satire of the first two films. The tone here is much lighter and fun and as mentioned is more along the lines of the typical 80s action film by Cannon. The first two films received some negative attention for the attack on Kersey’s wife and daughter in the original and housekeeper and daughter in the 2nd. However no sexual assault is shown on camera this time around. When Death Wish II was released it carried an X-rating and the attack of Kersey’s housekeeper and daughter were edited to obtain the R. Death Wish 3 also received an X, but Winner appealed and the MPAA lowered the rating to an R. Death Wish 3 is well paced and always a lot of fun. This time around instead of being your average guy, Kersey is now Rambo. First Blood was quite different than the rest and the Rambo as we know it didn’t start until the 2nd film and Rambo: First Blood Part II was released May 22nd in 1985 and Death Wish 3 November 1st, 1985. I have no idea how far into production Death Wish 3 was to know if the 2nd Rambo was an influence, but basically Kersey is now Rambo simple as that. As I mentioned I assume Winner directed this as a satire of sorts, but not all the comedic elements were intentional. While there is action spread out though the film most of it is saved for the final act, which is just off the wall insane; its Bronson and the civilians Vs the gang with the cops involved as well. Regular civilians bust out guns and various weapons and even set up booby traps and while its so absurd, but Michael Winner’s action scenes are so fun and violent and the more absurd the more fun you’ll have with it as Brooklyn is pretty much destroyed as its all out war on the streets. For his last Death Wish, Michael Winner goes all out and while from a filmmaking side of things, Death Wish 3 is far removed from the original, but in the fun factor, Michael Winner delivers the goods as like I said Death Wish 3 is just insane with perhaps the craziest final act I’ve seen in any action film. On January 21st, 2013 at the age of 77 Michael Winner would pass away.

Overall Death Wish 3 is one of those films that’s high on the fun factor from opening until closing. Charles Bronson is again great and its never tiring seeing him dispatch thugs. Apparently, Bronson didn’t have a great experience filming Death Wish 3, nor did he really care for it, which is the most likely reason Michael Winner didn’t return for the 4th or 5th.

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Death Wish II (1982) Review

Posted in Death Wish II with tags , , , on March 18, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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DEATH WISH II

**** Out of 5

Tagline- When Murder and Rape Invade Your Home and the Cops Can’t Stop It. This Man Will. His Way!

Release Date- February 20th, 1982

Running Time- 88-Minutes

Rating- R

Screenplay- David Engelbach

Director- Michael Winner

Starring- Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Vincent Gardenia, Ben Frank, Thomas F. Duffy

In 1974 when Death Wish was released it became a box office hit and launched the career of Charles Bronson who previously was mostly a supporting actor, but Death Wish made Bronson into a leading man. Besides making a star out of Bronson and also being the film debut of Jeff Goldblum, Death Wish became the holy grail of the vigilante film. Almost every vigilante film since the original Death Wish has pretty much followed its concept even if it was based on a book or movie that was released prior to Death Wish. 8-years after the original Death Wish II was released in 1982, which brings back Bronson as Paul Kersey who is now in Los Angeles rather than New York, but trouble always seems to find Kersey regardless of the city. Death Wish II is basically the same movie as the original only set in a different city and this time Kersey gets the people responsible for the assault of his daughter whereas in the original they were never found. Death Wish II is one of those remake kind of sequels since the structure for the two films are essentially the same. The only thing that keep this from being a complete rehash is as stated this time Kersey gets the bad guys. Outside of that Death Wish II is the same exact film. Death Wish can be seen as an exploitation film and really the only think keeping it from that is Paramount a major studio did the film, but Death Wish II plays up to the exploitation style a bit more and is even a little meaner in tone perhaps and some of the action scenes are a little bigger and a little more graphic to some degree. The original Death Wish is the better overall film, but Death Wish II in my opinion is the more fun to watch. Death Wish II may not go down as one of the all time great films and despite having the basic same structure as the original film Death Wish II is very much a crowd pleaser.

After having some success after Death Wish by this time in his career Charles Bronson was in need of a hit to show he can still carry a film as the star and director Michael Winner also struggled by this point with a lot of his films not making much noise. Michael Winner actually tried to get the directing job on Jaw, but was turned down several times and Winner rejected the Omen, which would end up going to Richard Donner. This was the first Death Wish film made by Cannon films and the first time Bronson would work with Cannon and he would become a regular for the company throughout the 80s and while a lot of the films Bronson made with Cannon may not have had the success of past Bronson films (excluding the Cannon Death Wish films) the 80s is probably the era many fans remember him from despite having bigger hits prior to the 80s and starring in such classics such as Once Upon a Time in the West.

Paul Kersey (Bronson) now living in Los Angeles is out with his girlfriend and his daughter Carol (Sherwood) who since the attack on her a few years back has become a mute. Kersey has his wallet stolen by a bunch of thugs and Kersey gets hold of one of them and roughs him up. The thugs show up at Kersey’s place where they rape and kill his housekeeper and when Kersey arrives home he’s attacked and his daughter abducted and raped. She’s killed while trying to escape and now Kersey walks the streets to find the thugs and deliver vigilante justice.

The screenplay was written by David Engelbach who in 1987 would write Over the Top also by Cannon Films and starred Sylvester Stallone. The script by Engelbach is basically a rewrite of the first film and can be seen as a remake in form of a sequel. Characters are mostly copies of the original and even the thugs are pretty much the same to some degree only difference is here they play a little bigger part. In the original the more Kersey killed the easier it got and that transition continues here as there’s no more inner struggle. Even before he kills one of the bad guys, Kersey has a witty one liner. The writing isn’t exactly great as its hindered by being too much a copy of the original, but with that said the script is highly entertaining and fun. The one area I would like to have seen explored more is the relationship between detective Ochoa (Gardenia) and Kersey. Ochoa is sent to L.A. to see if its the same vigilante from New York and in one scene during a shootout between Kersey and the bad guys, Ochoa assists Kersey and when asked, Ochoa says it was either you or them. I always found that kinda interesting as it shows Ochoa in someways understands why Kersey is doing what he is and doesn’t seem as a bad guy. While I suppose by going into too much detail would take away from what fans wanna see and that’s Kersey killing thugs, but it was still an interesting angle Death Wish II could have taken.

Director Michael Winner follows the structure of the original, but the tone here is a little more sleazy and exploitive and Death Wish II also kind of has a fun tone despite the subject matter. The original had a darker tone even if Bronson’s actions were crows pleasing, but this one seems to have that feel throughout at least to me despite being a little sleazier.The action scenes are a little bigger in spots and spread out nicely, which keeps Death Wish II running at a smooth pace for its brief 88-minute running time. The attack on the housekeeper despite being edited to obtain the R is still rather sadistic and trumps the attack scene in the original and the attack on Kersey’s daughter despite also being heavily edited is still quite disturbing. These scenes have come under fire by critics, but they didn’t phase Michael Winner at all. This isn’t great filmmaking on display, but Michael Winner knows what his audience wants and doesn’t let us down.

Death Wish II is mostly the exact film as the original and while it isn’t nearly as good I would say its more enjoyable. Bronson is terrific, but clearly going through the motions. Though i will say Robin Sherwood as Carol Kersey is the standout. despite having no dialogue and a minor role she actually brings a lot to the film. The score was done by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and he got a Razzie nomination, but the Razzies are a bigger joke than the Oscars. I for one loved the score by Jimmy Page. Regardless of any flaws Death Wish II is highly enjoyable and you can just sit back and cheer on the actions of Charles Bronson.

Death Wish II actually has a terrific cast of notable actors and while some you may not know by name, but you will by face Ben Frank (Don’t Answer the Phone), Anthony Franciosa (Tenebre), Robert F. Lyons (Dark Night of the Scarecrow), J.D. Cannon (McCloud) and of course Jill Ireland the real life wife of Bronson and also in the cast is Charles Cyphers best known for his work on such John Carpenter films as Halloween and the Fog and perhaps the most notable face is Laurence Fishburne as Cutter one of the thugs Kersey is after. Thomas F. Duffy who played Nirvana would guest star on several TV shows as well as having a role in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which also starred Jeff Goldblum and Kevyn Major Howard who played Stomper, the following year would appear in the Dirty Harry film Sudden Impact and would also appear in Full Metal Jacket.

Death Wish II was released on blu-ray by FOX and like many of the MGM titles released on blu-ray by FOX they all seem to look exactly a like so if you’ve seen past releases you’ll know what to expect. The HD presentation while not demo worthy is actually quite strong and made even stronger when compared to the old DVD, which was quite horrendous. If you never saw the DVD before the video on the blu-ray will be good, but nothing great for those like myself who had seen this on DVD the blu-ray is terrific as at times the DVD was so poor it almost looked like it was shot on video in a few scenes. This is the edited R-rated version, which is quite annoying seeing as apparently when aired on MGMHD its uncut and when I watched this on Netflix it was the uncut version so its not like the footage is lost or anything. The uncut footage does add a meaner spirit to Death Wish II and while I still love the film even edited as the cut version still packs a punch its quite frustrating though that FOX didn’t include it. I just don’t understand since its been aired uncut why in this day and age FOX wouldn’t deliver an uncut version. Rant aside, the audio isn’t anything spectacular, but good enough and the only feature is a trailer. Despite my issues Death Wish II, is a strong release in terms of audio and video made even stronger when compared to the DVD. This won’t be among your favorite releases, but flaws and all its a worthy upgrade.

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Death Wish (1974) Review

Posted in Death Wish (1974 Film) with tags , , , on March 17, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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DEATH WISH

**** Out of 5

Tagline- Vigilante, City Style. Judge, Jury and Executioner

Release Date- July 24th, 1978

Running Time- 93-Minutes

Rating- R

Screenplay- Wendell Mayes (Brian Garfield- Novel)

Director- Michael Winner

Starring- Charles Bronson, Vincent Gardenia, Steven Keats, Kathleen Tolan and Hope Lange

Released in 1974 Death Wish is the holy grail of the vigilante film and by far the most influential. When Death Wish was released NYC was crime ridden and of course the bigger the city the more crime, but NYC of the 70s wasn’t exactly the safest place and I’m not surprised Death Wish became a big hit. This film also made Charles Bronson into a lead actor as at this stage in the 54-year old actors career he was usually cast in a supporting role or co-lead. Some people fail to realize Bronson was highly successful at this time with such films as the Great Escape, the Magnificent Seven and Once Upon a Time in the West. Death Wish is again the film that made him a lead actor and not the film that made him a star like some reviews claim.

Death Wish still holds up as a powerful film and still makes an impact and for a modern audience the only problem is Death Wish has been knocked off so many times even Death Wish II is nothing more than a rehash for the most part (though still a very fun film). So while the film still has a strong impact some of it might be lost due to how many times its been knocked off. And again NYC in the 70s is quite different though sadly there are still places where simply walking down the street can be dangerous. With so much crime in the world I’m sure many people have gotten fed up and may have thought about taking the law into their own hands. Sometimes the justice system fails us for various reasons and after a senseless act of violence towards his family, Paul Kersey now sees the world in a different way and I think many people feel like that, but vigilante justice isn’t the answer as it will just lead to more violence and soon enough it would go from wanting to do the right thing to people killing each other over the silliest of things (which already happens). Also just because you’re accused of a crime doesn’t make you guilty. How many times have we heard about people convicted on murder or rape charges and decades later were set free because of wrongful conviction? If we took the law into our own hands things would spiral out of control, but with that said I think at some point many of us have pondered the thought. What if a terrible crime was committed against so one you cared about? I’m sure the thought of vigilante justice would cross your mind. In many ways I think that’s what I love most about vigilante films is the what if.

Paul Kersey (Bronson) is living a normal life, but that changes after his wife and daughter are brutally attacked, which ends up with Kersey’s wife dying. With no leads the cops can’t do much and slowly a change comes over Kersey as he stalks the streets gunning down muggers while the police not only search for the vigilante, but downplay the drop in crime.

Death Wish was based off a novel by Brian Garfield first published in 1972 and the screenplay was adapted by Wendell Mayes. The novel was very good, but could also be a little sluggish in spots, but overall I found it a very good read. The screenplay by Mayes takes the basic premise, but doesn’t rehash it nor does it really stray either if that makes any sense. Wendell Mayes writes a solid script with strong characters and for the most part Death Wish is well plotted. The novel does delve more into Kersey’s psyche (in the book his name is Paul Benjamin) and the film can only go so far with that, but Mayes does a good job in turning Paul from your average guy to someone broken inside.

Director Michael Winner crafts a well made film with mostly strong pacing and while the action scenes are simple they’re effective though. Brian Garfield took issue with the film as he felt Winner glorified vigilante justice, which I sort of understand. When Kersey first kills someone he runs home, falls to his knees than gets up and goes into the bathroom and gets sick, but as the film goes on it gets easier and easier, but I also felt it went the same way in the novel. If anything the sequels are the ones that glorified it a lot more. The book Bronson’s Loose: The Making of the Death Wish Films has some really funny comments made by Winner about Brian Garfield. Michael Winner does a good job at showing NY for what it was in the 70s (though I felt William Lustig a native New Yorker did a better job at that with his 1983 film Vigilante). Unlike the sequels and knockoff films, Death Wish isn’t action packed and again when there is action it’s quite simple and effective, but outside of a couple of scenes, Winner crafts a well paced and powerful and gritty film and in many ways you can even see this as a borderline exploitation film though being made by a major studio in Paramount is what mainly keeps this from being seen as an exploitation film. The attack scene on Kersey’s wife and daughter is generally unsettling, but not quite as graphic as its reputation. Even in the era Death Wish was made I’ve seen films featuring scenes like this that were more unsettling, but with that said outside of some campy dialogue by the thugs the attack on Kersey’s family still packs a punch.

Death Wish features a couple of actors in bit roles that would later find major success; Jeff Goldblum plays one of the thugs that attacks Kersey’s family and Christopher Guest has a small role as a Patrolman, but the film also features Denzel Washington and his face is only seen very briefly and all these years of seeing the movie so many times I never realized Denzel was in this for the longest time and I just happened one day to notice him. For those who missed it he appears in about the 47-min mark appearing with 2 other men attacking another in an ally and than gets shot by Kersey.

Overall Death Wish is a terrific and powerful film perhaps again only brought down to a modern audience from all the knockoffs. But for me Death Wish remains a truly great film and would be followed by 4 sequels. The original was by far the best of the series, but I will admit I find the 2nd and 3rd films to be a bit more fun even if not as good as a whole. Death Wish is the holy grail of the vigilante film and easily ranks as one of my favorite Charles Bronson films.

Death Wish was released on blu-ray February 4th, 2014 by way of Warner Brothers after Paramount licensed the rights. The blu-ray release is for the 40th Anniversary Edition however the only feature is simply a trailer. The HD transfer is surprisingly excellent. Despite the popularity of the film and Charles Bronson I’m not sure how in demand the film is and more often than not films like Death Wish often get average HD quality and are usually the standard upgrade from DVD to blu-ray. But Warner does an excellent job and this makes for a very nice upgrade. While it may not exactly be demo worthy Death Wish looks terrific in HD and the audio track is also very strong. Despite the lack of extras the audio and video make it a worthy release.

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Troll 2 (1990) Review

Posted in Troll 2 with tags , , , on March 14, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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TROLL 2

*** Out of 5

Tagline- One Was Not Enough

Release Date- October 12th, 1990

Running Time- 95-Minutes

Rating- PG-13

Writer/Director- Claudio Fragasso (as Drake Floyd)

Starring- Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie McFarland and Robert Ormsby

Released in 1990 Troll 2 is often dubbed the best worst film of all time. The word worst movie ever is often tossed around way too much and 99% of the time its way off base. Troll 2 is a bad film lets make no mistake, but while a hack job I have seen films far worse such as some films by Uli Lommell such as BTK Killer and Curse of the Zodiac. Those two films have no redeeming qualities and could be considered two of the worst films made. What keeps Troll 2 from being the actual worst film, is as scary as it may sound its better made than the two films I mentioned and Troll 2 is a complete blast! Worst movie ever to me is a film that’s not only poorly made, but worst of all boring and as bad as Troll 2 is its never boring as this film throughout most of the running time is hysterical. However with that said Troll 2 is easily one of the ultimate so bad its good movies and its really difficult to hate a film this bad and one of the stars of the film Michael Stephenson even made a documentary titled Best Worst Movie.

Troll 2 was directed by Claudio Fragasso using the name Drake Floyd and when it comes to Fragasso he’s gained a cult following as many see his films as so bad they’re good. Some have called him the Italian Ed Wood (same for Bruno Mattie who would form a partnership with Fragasso, but more on that later). In many ways Troll 2 can be seen as Fragasso’s Plan 9 from Outer Space as both films were made as serious pictures, but both were hack jobs loaded with unintentional comedy. When it comes to the films of Claudio Fragasso I can’t say that I’m a fan of his work and while I get his appeal I often find his films fun early on, but as they go on they just get annoying. Films such as Zombie 4: After Death and Monster Dog, which he made under the name Clyde Anderson, have some fun moments in particular Zombie 4, but when all is said and done I really have little desire to see either anytime soon I’m more into filmmakers such as Juan Piquer Simon who is dubbed the Spanish Ed Wood and as for the actual Ed Wood I also prefer him to Fragasso. Troll 2 unlike a lot of other Fragasso films is a movie I every so often revisit. Troll 2 isn’t a sequel to Troll the 2 was thrown on for marketing and this in my opinion would be Fragasso’s best film, which is truly a scary thought.

The screenplay was written by Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi who is actually Claudio’s wife, but she isn’t listed in the credits as a writer. To say the screenplay for Troll 2 is bad is a major understatement, but its one of those screenplays that’s so poor it almost becomes great. Troll 2 was written straight as its meant to be a serious film with a little comedy mixed in and I think that in part adds to the film and makes it even funnier since the dialogue and plot are quite absurd. More often than not the script is flat out hilarious even though it isn’t meant to be comedic and add the poor, but very entertaining acting into the mix, Fragasso & Drudi deliver comedic gold. The characters are great due to the mixture of the absurd dialogue and poor acting. Here’s some of the highlights from the script (or would it be lowlights?)

Are you nuts? You trying to turn me into a homo?

Wouldn’t be too hard. If my father discovers you here, he’d cut off your little nuts and eat them. He can’t stand you.

They’re eating her and then they’re going to eat me. Oh my god!

Do you see this writing? Do you know what it means? Hospitality. And you can’t piss on hospitality! I won’t allow it!

What are you going to do to me, daddy?

Tightening my belt one loop so that I don’t feel hunger pains, and your sister and mother will have to do likewise. Ok Joshua. You wanna get rough with me? You wanna show me that you don’t like the choice of this house for our vacation by going on a hunger strike? Well, I’ll accept the the challenge. But just remember when I was your age, I really did suffer from hunger. We’ll see who gets through this, but just remember I’ve for more practice than you. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Nilbog! It’s goblin spelled backwards! This is their kingdom!

Joshua, start singing. Come on, sing that song I like so much.

I don’t feel like singing, mom.

Just sing.

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.

Regardless if he’s Claudio Fragasso, Clyde Anderson or Drake Floyd, Claudio isn’t exactly great at his craft. As I mentioned I’ve never been a huge fan of his work as I find his films fun to a certain point, but at some point of the film I lose interest. As I mentioned the script was meant to be serious and so was the direction. Fragasso says he made a deep film dealing with life, death and family and he doesn’t understand why people laugh at the film. The fact he was actually trying to make a good film makes Troll 2 even more fun. The actors realize what the film is, but not Fragasso and he even heckled the cast at a Q & A for insulting the film! However over the years, Fragasso has come to terms with the reputation of the film. Troll 2 runs at a great pace as for the good portion of its running time its quite hysterical and while the 2nd half can be a little sluggish in spots where it does slightly run out of steam, but it picks up again quickly as Fragasso crafts enough absurdly bad moments that are quite fun. I think the truly scary thing is how Fragasso not only attempted a legit and deep film, but how oblivious he is on what he made. Great film or bad film I think every filmmaker should be proud of their work, but you also have to be honest and know when you made a turkey, but knowing this was made as a legit film really does make things even more fun. At times its actually quite shockingly bad, but Fragssso easily in my opinion delivers one of the ultimate so bad its good films and while its no Plan 9 from Outer Space, Fragasso still makes such a bad, but so much film.

What’s also funny is its not even trolls, but goblins not that it really matters! As for the appearance of the trolls (um goblins) it looks like they’re wearing masks that can be bought for a few dollars.

What can I really say about the acting that’s hasn’t been said? I for one love the performances since they greatly add to the badness of the film. All the actors in particular the main ones were so much fun to watch and as we learned in Best Worst Movie Connie McFarland doesn’t even list Troll 2 on her resume.

As I mentioned Claudio Fragasso and Bruno Mattei would form a partnership with Claudio writing or co-writing such films as The Other Hell, Hell of the Living Dead, Women’s Prison Massacre, Rats and Strike Commando with Bruno serving as director. Claudio Fragasso also wrote Zombie 3, which was directed by Lucio Fulci, but roughly 40-minutes were added in reshoots as after editing the film was only about 50-minutes and the additional scenes were shot by Bruno Mattei. In most of their collaborations, Fragssso besides writing also often served as an assistant director. Their partnership would deliver plenty of so bad its good films and Fragasso’s wife Rossella Drudi was often involved in the writing, but her name was almost always left off. Its kinda of fitting isn’t it that these three would make films together. As I mentioned Bruno Mattei was often dubbed the Italian Ed Wood and Bruno unlike Claudio would be the first to admit his films weren’t very good, but its quite easy to why the films they made together have become cult classics.

Laura Gemser best known for the Black Emanuelle series served as the costume designer on Troll 2.

Troll 2 was released on blu-ray by FOX and if you’ve seen any of the MGM title FOX have put out on blu-ray you should know what to expect. Audio and video is fairly decent and probably better than most would expect, but its nothing demo worthy. The cover boasts the words 20th-Anniversary Nilbog Edition, but there aren’t any features on the disc except for a trailer. Not much of an edition. Also a DVD copy is included. Despite being a 20th-Anniversary Edition there isn’t anything special about it, but while I’m sure fans would have liked something on the disc, but its still a worthy edition to a collection. Too bad FOX couldn’t work something out for Best Worst Movie to be part of the release. Its again disappointing that Troll 2 is a bare bones release, but with decent enough audio and video and being such a fun film I guess it can be sort of overlooked to some degree.

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