Oblivion (1994, directed by Sam Irvin)

In the far, far future, Earth has set up colonies all across the universe.  One of those colonies is the dusty town of Oblivion, which looks just like an old west town except the deputy is a cyborg and there’s an ATM outside the saloon.  A humanoid lizard named Red Eye (Andrew Divoff, covered in green scales) comes to town and kills the marshal.  Red Eye and his gang take over Oblivion, planning to turn it into their own personal pleasure palace.

The marshal’s son, Zack (Richard Joseph Paul), comes to town for the old man’s funeral.  Everyone thinks that Zack is a coward because he refuses to avenge his father’s death.  Zack, however, is no coward.  He’s just an empath who can’t handle the negative emotion that are generated by violence.  But seeing as how his father is dead, his best friend Buteo (Jimmie F. Skaggs) is being tortured in the town square, and lovely Mattie Chase (Jackie Swanson) wants Red Eye and his gang to get out of town, Zack knows that he’s going to have to do the right thing and conquer his empathy.

Oblivion is a haphazard mix of comedy, science fiction, and the western genre.  Some of the ideas come close to being clever but it never makes sense why an Earth colony in 3031 would resemble a one-horse town from a singing cowboy movie.  (The film probably would have worked better if it had been about Red Eye invading an actual Old West town in the 1800s instead of a colony designed to look like one.)  Andrew Divoff is entertaining as he hams it up as the main desperado but, as far Old West charisma is concerned, Richard Joseph Paul is no John Wayne or Henry Fonda.  Quite a few familiar names were somehow roped into appearing in this low-budget space oater, though most of them only appear for a few minutes and don’t contribute much to the overall story.  George Takei plays the alcoholic town doctor.  Julie Newmar is Miss Kitty, the owner of Oblivion’s “social” club.  In a nod to her most famous role, Newmar hisses at Red Eye and his gang but that’s all she gets to do.  It feels like a waste of a cameo.  Isaac Hayes and Meg Foster also make appearances, though again neither really gets to do anything interesting.

The idea of a space western isn’t a bad one and there actually have been a few good ones.  (Outland, for example.)  But Oblivion can never escape the drag of its low budget and its bland lead.

It’s Over: Tom Brady Retires

Tom Brady has retired.

It’s over.

The last time Tom retired, he changed his mind a month and a half later and returned to lead the Buccaneers to the playoffs.  On Twitter, there’s already a lot of people making jokes about him changing his mind a second time but I think everyone knows that this Brady retirement is for real.  He’s 45 years old now, playing a game that many players are forced to quit when they’re only in their early 30s.  This season, there were times when Brady struggled but he still led the Buccaneers to the post season.  A struggling Brady was still better than many quarterbacks at their prime.

Tom Brady was the greatest of all time.  He’s also someone who played for so long that there’s an entire generation that doesn’t know of a time when Brady wasn’t one of the most dominating quarterbacks in the league.  Brady played 23 seasons.  People who were born during his first season with the Patriots have graduated from college.  Famously, Brady was picked in the 6th round of the 2000 NFL Draft but, in the end, he was the last member of the class standing.  Brady dominated like a few others.  It was exciting and fun to watch him play, except for one he was playing against your team.

There are, of course, other great quarterbacks in the NFL.  Two of them are about to meet in the Super Bowl.  But Tom Brady retiring is definitely the end of an era and a reminder that time catches up with all of us eventually.  Brady has been hired by Fox Sports to provide commentary during the 2023 season.  I could see Tom Brady doing anything he wants during his retirement.

Let’s not get crazy now.

Personally, I think Tom Brady would make a hell of a coach.  But, whatever he does from this point forward, he’ll always be remembered as one of the greatest of all time.

Pressure Point (1997, directed by David Giancola)

Sebastian “Della” Dellacourt (Don Mogavero) is a balding, mild-mannered, and middle-aged businessman who has all the screen presence of a halibut.  That is just his cover because, in reality, Della is the CIA’s best assassin.  When his handler (played by Larry Linville of M*A*S*H fame) promises him that he only has to do “one last” job, Della is relieved.  But when he discovers that the job involves killing not only an ambassador but also the ambassador’s children, he intentionally botches it.  Della is arrested and his secret life is exposed.  His wife leaves him.  Convicted of murder, Della is sent to prison but he won’t be there for long.  His handlers have one last “one last” job for him.

After they arrange for him to escape from prison, Della makes his way to Vermont where he is assigned to infiltrate a militia movement led by local businessman, Arno Taylor (Steve Railsback).  Arno hates the government and he loves apples and he wants to blow up the U.S. Congress.  It turns out that Arno has some powerful friends backing him up and Della is meant to be a patsy.  Can Della and his new cop girlfriend (Linda Ljoka) stop Arno or will Della be set up to take the fall for the worst act of terrorism in American history?

Before talking about the movie, let’s spare a thought for Larry Linville.  Larry Linville was not a bad actor but he never recovered from playing Frank Burns on M*A*S*H.  It didn’t have to be that way.  During the first season of M*A*S*H, Frank was self-righteous, annoying, and not a great surgeon but he was still recognizably human and Linville played him as just being insecure and not as quick-witted as the other surgeons.  But as the series went on, Frank was written to be more and more cartoonish and soon he became downright evil.  While every other character got to grow and develop, Frank regressed until eventually there wasn’t any room left for him on the show.  Realizing that Frank would never be allowed to become a fully-rounded character, Linville left the show after the fifth season.  The show went on for 6 more seasons without him but Linville never escaped the shadow of Frank Burns and his post-M*A*S*H movie career was spent playing villains in low-budget films like this one.

As for Pressure Point, it comes from the same people who did Icebreaker and Time Chasers so you know what you’re getting into when you start watching it.  Moments of mild action are mixed in with scenes that only exist to pad out the running time.  Even though I like the idea of action movies that star people who like actual everyday people, Don Magovero is still the least convincing action star that I’ve ever seen.  Whenever he has to run or jump or do anything requiring any sort of physical exertion, he looks like he is about to faint.  Having him go up against Steve Railsback, who actually is a good actor and who is convincing as someone who could organize and lead a militia group, just seems unfair.

Icebreaker (2000, directed by David Giancola)

Carl Grieg (Bruce Campbell) is a terminally ill terrorist who takes over a Vermont ski resort while his henchpeople search the nearby mountains for a lost shipment on plutonium.  The only man who can stop Carl is a wiseass but determined ski patroller, Matt Foster (Sean Astin).  Not only does Matt have to stop Carl from getting his hands on the plutonium but he also has to save his fiancée (Suzanne Turner) and her father (Stacy Keach), both of whom are being held hostage by Carl.  Since his future father-in-law thinks that he’s nothing more than good for nothing ski bum, this is Matt’s chance to prove himself worthy of joining the family.

Icebreaker tries to be Die Hard in a Ski Lodge but it fails because Sean Astin is no one’s idea of an action star.  With his laid back and goofy manner, Astin miscast as someone who can leap from from an exploding ski lift and land in the snow with barely a scratch on him.  This was the last film that Sean Astin made before Peter Jackson offered him the role of Sam in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Needless to say, Astin was much better cast in that role than as a knock-off of Bruce Willis.

As for the rest of the cast, Bruce Campbell hams it up as Carl and, while it is always good to see Bruce, he also appears to be having so much fun that it makes him a less than convincing terrorist.  With his shaved head, it’s easy to mistake Bruce for Billy Zane.  Stacy Keach does a good job playing someone who is never not annoyed.  Considering that his daughter wants to marry a ski bum and they’re being held hostage by a villain who wants to make his very own nuclear bomb, can you blame him?

There’s some skiing action but none of it is really memorable.  There is also a scene featuring repeated shots of a counter on a bomb, announcing that Astin only had 30 seconds to do what he needs to do before everything explodes.  I think the timer may have been broken because it took a lot long than 30 seconds for that countdown to reach zero.  If you really want to see Die Hard In A Ski Resort, I suggest sticking with Cliffhanger.  That one not only only has Sylvester Stallone and Michael Rooker cracking jokes but also John Lithgow speaking with a posh accent.

Game Review: Conflict (1990, Virgin Mastertronic International, Inc)

In 1997, after the Israeli Prime Minister is assassinated, you are appointed to take his place.  It is up to you to lead Israel and to keep it safe.  It won’t be easy because there are enemies all around.  Not only do you have to deal with America continually pressuring you to surrender the West Bank and not increase the size of your army but Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan all border you and could be either strong allies or potential threats.  It all depends on the decision that you make.

Conflict is a political strategy simulator where the goal is to be the last country standing.  The only way to ensure that Israel is safe is to make sure that the governments around it either collapse or surrender.  That does not necessarily mean that you should go to war with these countries.  Though that is an option, it’s sometimes easier to covertly support an internal rebellion or to wait for those countries to go to war with each other.  Along with the countries bordering you, you also have to deal with Libya, Iran, and Iraq, three countries that can be manipulated to go to war with the rivals on your border.  If you do not want to go to war with bigger and more populated countries, it is sometimes best to just wait for those counties to collapse on their own.  Another solution is to develop a nuclear arsenal and use it on your enemies but that will not only earn you the enmity of the United States but there’s also a chance that it could cause the end of the world.

What makes Conflict so challenging is that each game is randomized.  Sometimes, you’ll start the game with none of your neighbors acting aggressively towards you.  Sometimes, Syria and Egypt will both be aggressively pursuing their own nuclear programs and sometimes, they won’t.  If you start the game with both Syria and Egypt threatening to invade you at the same time, you might as well give up and start over because there’s no way that you’re going to survive.  Just as in real life, so much of succeeding in Conflict depends on getting a few lucky breaks.

Along with the role of chance, another thing that stands out about Conflict is what a pain of the ass the United States can be.  If you do anything to defend your country, the U.S. will condemn you and possibly even declare an arms embargo on you.  (Again, a lot of it has to do with chance.)  If you call out an air strike on the nuclear installations in Egypt or Syria, the U.S. will get upset despite the fact that you really don’t really have any other option.  Losing the race to be the first to deploy nuclear weapons in Conflict usually means losing the game.  After I played the game a few times, I realized it was pointless to worry about how the U.S. felt about anything.  Instead, I had to do whatever I had to do in order to survive.

Conflict is a challenging game.  There is a way to win by declaring war on everyone but you can also win by being a peaceful neighbor and never attacking anyone.  Of course, both of those approaches can also lead to you being led away to be hanged by your enemies.  Conflict can be frustratingly difficult but that just makes it all the more rewarding when you do win.

Play Conflict at the Internet Archive.

Dark Future (1994, directed by Greydon Clark)

This future is really dark.

A mysterious plague wiped out most of humanity and a group of fascist cyborgs took over.  (They actually prefer to be called Synthetics but everyone knows that they’re actually cyborgs.)  The remaining humans were exiled to an abandoned train station that was renamed the Forbidden Zone.  In the Forbidden Zone, the human survive as bartenders and sex slaves for their cyborg overlords.  If you want to enter or leave the Forbidden Zone, you have to put your hand on one of those balls of lightning that people used to buy at Spencer’s Gifts.

The humans have been told that they are all sterile, which is one reason why they are willing to accept living in such a dark future.  When a baby is born in the Forbidden Zone, it blows up the sterility myth.  Kendall (Darby Hinton, who co-wrote the script and who is best remembered for starring in Andy Sidaris’s Malibu Express) is a bartender who tries to protect the baby while rallying the other humans to rise up against the cyborgs Synthetics.  The Synthetics want that baby for their own incoherent reasons.  War breaks out between man and the half-machines.

Even by the normal standards of director Greydon Clark, this is low budget nonsense.  The action’s slow, the story is incoherent, the acting is bad, you get the idea.  There are a lot of scenes of people standing around fires that have been lit in barrels.  There’s so many barrels on fire that the Forbidden Zone should have burned down years ago.  Also, why is it called the Forbidden Zone when anyone can enter it whenever they want to?  The humans aren’t allowed to leave the train station/night club/brothel so it seems like the rest of the world should be called the Forbidden Zone.  The future is dark and not easily understood.  So is this movie.

Humanity’s only hope, Kendall

Lost Heroes: The Untold Story of Canadian Super Heroes (2014, directed by Will Pascoe)

Lost Heroes is an engrossing look at the history of Canadian super heroes.

Starting in the 1930s, Lost Heroes details how Canada’s entry into World War II also led to the first Golden Age of Canadian comic book heroes.  After the passage of the War Exchange Cultivation Act of 1940, many American products, including the comic books that were just as popular with children in Canada as they were in America, could no longer be imported to Canada.  Looking to fill the hole, Canadian publishers put out their own comic books, all featuring uniquely Canadian heroes who fought the Nazis.  Because these books were published in black-and-white, they became known as the Canadian Whites.

The first half of the documentary is about the Canadian Whites and the companies that published them.  Maple Leaf was the home to a hero who dwelled under the sea and who was known as Iron Man.  Cosmo Grant was a Batman-style scientist while Brok Windsor traveled in a canoe.  Anglo-American published the adventures of Commander Steel and Freelance, two international adventurers who aided in the Canadian war effort.  Educational Projects introduced readers to Canada Jack, an ordinary Canadian who fought crime but also taught valuable life lessons.  Most popular of all was Bell Features, which was home to Nelvana of the North (who drew her powers from the Northern Lights), Crash Carson, and Johnny Canuck.  Johnny Canuck’s super power was “being Canadian.”

The stuff about the Canadian Whites is genuinely interesting.  Jack Tremblay, one of the artists of the Golden Age, is interviewed and talks about the experience of being a 16 year-old comic book artist.  (Because of the war effort, many of the Golden Age comic books were written and illustrated by teenagers who weren’t old enough to enlist.)  Along with re-introducing some forgotten World War II super heroes, the documentary also looks at how those super heroes represented Canadian culture and how they helped readers take pride in being Canadian.

The end of World War II also brought about the end of the Golden Age of Canadian comics.  With the war over, the War Exchange Cultivation Act also came to an end and, once again, American comics could be sold in Canada.  The black-and-white Canadian comic books could not compete with the color comic books coming from the States and most of the Canadian publishers closed up shop.  The rest of the documentary deals with the periodic attempts to revive the Canadian comic book industry throughout the years.  Though Captain Canuck it found some brief success in the 70s, it ultimately could not compete with the Marvel and D.C. titles coming across the border.

Much of the second half of the documentary deals with Wolverine and Alpha Flight, both of which were created for Marvel by John Byrne.  Along with being one of the world’s most recognizable and popular super heroes, Wolverine is also Canadian and several people interviewed in the film take pride in pointing out all of the things about Wolverine that identify him as being from Canada, everything from his love of beer to his flannel shirts.  Alpha Flight is less warmly received, with many criticizing it for being more about how Americans view Canada than Canada itself.

Lost Heroes is an interesting and informative documentary.  It examines both the history of Canadian comics and also what those comic book heroes said about Canada’s national identity and its efforts to distinguish itself from its neighbor down south.  The documentary ends with the suggestion that the Canadian super heroes will rise again.  I hope they do.

Prey of the Jaguar (1996, directed by David DeCoteau)

Derek Leigh (Maxwell Caulfield) is a former Special Ops agent whose son and wife are killed by a drug lord (Trevor Goddard) than Leigh helped to put behind bars.  Inspired by his dead son’s love of super heroes, Leigh puts on a purple rubber suit and learns karate from Master Yee (John Fujioka) while The Toymaker (Paul Bartel) supplies him with an arsenal of weapons.  Calling himself the Jaguar, Leigh goes after the men who killed his family.

Caulfield wears an obviously fake mustache for the first half of the film so that he can shave it off when he becomes The Jaguar.  The camera never stops spinning around.  Most of the fights look fake and the exterior of Derek’s house changes from shot-to-shot.  Stacy Keach plays a high-ranking government official but doesn’t bother to get a haircut or hide his pony tail.  Linda Blair plays a cop and sounds like she sucked helium before filming her lines.  I’m not sure what she was doing in the movie.  She may not have been sure either.  Prey of the Jaguar is a reminder of just how cheap and cruddy most super hero films were before Marvel took over Hollywood.  Of course, Derek doesn’t really have any super powers, beyond getting proficient at martial arts in record time.  He is just wearing the outfit to honor the spirit of his dead son.  That actually makes more sense than most of the Marvel origin stories.  The movie itself was too cheap to work and the actors were so disinterested that they seemed to actively be trying to make sure that there would never be a Prey of the Jaguar 2.

The most interesting thing about the film are the opening credits, which reveal that this film was executive producer by the Wolf of Wall Street himself, Jordan Belfort.

McBain (1991, directed by James Glickenhaus)

In the year 1973, Bobby McBain (Christopher Walken) was an American POW, fighting for his life in a North Vietnamese prison camp that was run by a general so evil that he wore a necklace of human ears.  Luckily, on the last day of the war, McBain was rescued by Roberto Santos (Chick Vennerra).  When Bobby asked how he could ever repay Santos, Santos gave him half of a hundred dollar bill and told him that someday, Santos would give him the other half.  McBain swears that he will be ready when the day comes to get the other half.  I guess he’s like Caine in Kung Fu, waiting for the chance to snatch the pebble from his master’s hand.

15 years later, McBain is a welder in New York.  One day, while sitting in a bar, he watches as Santos is executed on live television after a failed attempt to overthrow the dictator of Colombia.  Shortly afterwards, McBain is approached by Santos’s sister (Maria Conchita Alonzo), who asks McBain to help her finish Santos’s revolution.  McBain tells her a long story about attending Woodstock and then reunites with his Vietnam War buddies, Frank (Michael Ironside!), Eastland (Steve James), Dr. Dalton (Jay Patterson), and Gil (Thomas G. Waites).  After killing a bunch of drug dealers, stealing their money, and harassing Luis Guzman, the gang heads for Colombia.

I wonder how many people have watched this movie over the years with the expectation that it would be a live action version of the famous Rainier Wolfcastle film that was featured in several episodes of The Simpsons.  Unfortunately, this movie has nothing to do with the Simpsons version of McBain.  (Sorry, no “Bye, book.”)  Instead, it’s just another strange and overlong action film from director James Glickenhaus.  The film mixes scene of total carnage with dialogue that often seems to be going off on a totally unrelated tangent, like McBain’s musings about what Woodstock ultimately stood for.  Walken doesn’t seem to be acting as much as he’s parodying his own eccentric image.  Walken takes all of his usual quirks and trademark vocal tics and turns them up to 11 for this movie.

Even though the movie is twenty minutes too long, it still feels like scenes are missing.  Alonzo leaves Colombia on a mule and then is suddenly in New York.  (The mule is nowhere to be seen.)  We don’t actually see Walken recruiting the majority of his team.  Instead, they just show up in his house.  Once the action moves to Colombia, it turns out that overthrowing the government is much simpler than it looks.  While the rebels lay down their lives while attacking the palace, McBain and his crew pretty much stroll through the movie without receiving even a scratch.  Maybe welders should be put in charge of all of America’s foreign policy adventures.  It couldn’t hurt.

With its hole-filled plot and confusingly edited combat scenes, McBain isn’t great but 80s action enthusiasts should enjoy seeing Michael Ironside and Steve James doing their thing.  Others will want to see it just for Christopher Walken’s characteristically odd performance.  He may not be Rainier Wolfcastle but, for this movie, Christopher Walken is McBain.