White Rush (2003, directed by Mark L. Lester)


Five friends, while on their annual camping trip outside of Salt Lake City, stumble across a cocaine deal gone bad.  They think that all of the drug dealers have been killed and Chick (Louis Mandylor), who happens to be a police detective, suggests that they should take the cocaine for themselves and sell it to the local drug lord.  Everyone agree but Eva (Tricia Helfer), a former addict who is so disgusted by Chick’s plans that she runs away from the group.

While she’s stumbling through the wilderness, Eva runs into Brian Nathanson (Judd Nelson), the sole survivor of the drug deal.  Determined to get his cocaine back, Brian convinces Eva to help him out by explaining to her that there’s an even worse drug dealer than him who also wants the cocaine.  In fact, that even worse drug dealer has already sent a sexy assassin named Solange (Sandra Vidal) to kill everyone involved in the botched drug deal.  The obvious solution would be to just return the drugs to Brian and let him take the fall but Chick and his friends aren’t that smart.

A film starring Judd Nelson and directed by Mark L. Lester, the man behind such classics as Class of 1984 and Commando?  Sounds pretty good, right?  Actually, the film isn’t bad.  Or, at least, it’s better than you’d expect from a low budget, direct-to-video Judd Nelson movie.  Even though the plot may be full of holes that you could drive a semi-trailer truck through, Mark L. Lester doesn’t waste any time getting the story rolling and he keeps the action moving.  Lester knows better than to pretend that this movie is anything more than just a B-action movie.  Judd Nelson gives one of his better performances as Brian, playing him as if John Bender grew up and became a drug dealer.  (We all knew that was going to happen, no matter what happened at the end of The Breakfast Club.)  Finally, Sandra Vidal is sexy and convincingly lethal as Solange.

White Rush is currently available on Tubi and Prime.

Robots With A Cause: Class of 1999 (1990, directed by Mark L. Lester)


The year is 1999 and John F. Kennedy High School sits in the middle of Seattle’s most dangerous neighborhood.  Teenage gangs have taken over all of the major American cities and just going to school means putting your life in danger.  However, Dr. Bob Forest (Stacy Keach!), the founder of MegaTech, has a solution.  He has taken former military androids and reprogrammed them to serve as educators.  JFK’s principal, Miles Langford (Malcolm McDowell!!), agrees to allow his school to be used a testing ground.  Soon, Miss Conners (Pam Grier!!!) is teaching chemistry.  Mr. Byles (Patrick Kilpatrick) is teaching gym.  Mr. Hardin (John P. Ryan) is teaching history.  When they’re not teaching, these robots are killing truant students and manipulating two rival street gangs into going to war.

Imagine mixing Rebel With A Cause with The Terminator and you get an idea of what Class of 1999 is like.  Two of the only good teenagers (played by Bradley Gregg and Traci Lind) figure out that the teachers are killing their classmates but they already know that they won’t be able to get anyone to listen to them because they’re just kids who go to school in a bad neighborhood.  Meanwhile, the teachers have been programmed to do whatever has to be done to keep the peace in the school.  Why suspend a disruptive student when you can just slam his head into a locker until he’s dead?  Director Mark L. Lester (who previously directed Class of 1984) is an old pro when it comes to movies like this and he’s helped by a better-than-average cast.  Any movie that features not only Stacy Keach and Malcolm McDowell but also Pam Grier is automatically going to be cooler than any movie that doesn’t.

When Class of 1999 was made, 1999 was considered to be the future and, in many ways, the movie did prove to be prophetic.  We may not have robot teachers (yet) but the idea of arming teachers and expecting them to double as cops has become a very popular one over the past few years.  Personally, I wouldn’t want to send my children to a school where the teachers all have to carry a gun while teaching but that may just be me.

Horror Film Review: Firestarter (dir by Mark L. Lester)


Adapted from Stephen King novel, 1984’s Firestarter is a film about a girl with a very special power.

Back in the day, a bunch of college students needed weed money so they took part in a government experiment.  Half of them were told that they were being given a placebo.  The other half were told that we would be given a low-grade hallucinogen.

Surprise!  The government lied!  It turns out that everyone was given the experimental drug!  Some of the students ended up going crazy.  One unfortunate hippie clawed his eyes out.  Meanwhile, Vicky (Heather Locklear) gained the ability to read minds.  She also fell in love with Andy McGee (David Keith), a goofy fellow who gained the ability to mentally control people’s actions.  They married and had a daughter named Charlie (played by a very young Drew Barrymore).  Charlie, it turns out, can set things on fire!  She’s a firestarter!

Well, of course, the government can’t just leave the McGees out there, controlling minds and setting things on fire.  Soon, the McGees are being pursued by the standard collection of men in dark suits.  Vicky is killed off-screen, leaving Charlie and Andy to try to find some place where they’ll be safe.

Good luck with that!  This is the government that we’re talking about.  The thing with films like this is that the government can do practically anything but it never occurs to them to not all dress in dark suits.  I mean, it just seems like it would be easier for all of these secret agents to operate if they weren’t automatically identifiable as being secret agents.  Anyway, Andy and Charlie are eventually captured and taken to The Farm, a really nice country estate where Andy and Charlie are kept separate from each other and everyone keeps talking about national security.

Running the Farm is Capt. Hollister and we know that he’s a bad guy because he wears a suit and he’s played by Martin Sheen.  Working with Hollister is John Rainbird (George C. Scott), a CIA assassin who kills people with a karate chop across the nose.  When Charlie refuses to show off her firemaking abilities unless she’s allowed to talk to her father, Rainbird disguises himself as a custodial engineer and proceeds to befriend Charlie.  Of course, Rainbird’s plan is to kill Charlie once she’s displayed the extent of her powers….

Stephen King has written that he considers this film to be one of the worst adaptations of one of his novels but, to be honest, I think the movie is actually a bit of an improvement on the source material.  Firestarter is probably the least interesting of Stephen King’s early novels.  Supposedly, Charlie was based on King’s youngest daughter and, reading the book, it’s obvious that everyone’s fear of Charlie is mostly a metaphor for a father trying to figure out how to raise a daughter.  Unfortunately, instead of concentrating on those primal fears, the book gets bogged down in boomer paranoia about MK-ULTRA experiments.

The movie, however, is just silly enough to be kind of charming.  For example, consider the way that Andy grabs his forehead and bugs out his eyes whenever he uses his powers.  Andy’s powers may be slowly killing him but he just looks so goofy whenever he uses them that you just can’t help but be entertained.  And then you’ve got Drew Barrymore sobbing while setting people on fire and George C. Scott growling through all of his dialogue and even Martin Sheen gets a scene where he gets excited and starts jumping up and down.  (And don’t even get me started on Art Carney and Louise Fletcher as the salt-of-the-Earth farmers who try to protect Andy and Charlie….)  Some of the special effects are a bit hokey, as you might expect from a film made in 1984 but occasionally, there’s a good shot of something (or someone) burning up.  It’s all so over-the-top and relentlessly dumb that you can’t help but be entertained.  You can even forgive the fact that basically nothing happens between the first 10 and the last 15 minutes of the movie.

Firestarter‘s silly but I liked it.

Existential Exploitation: BOBBIE JO & THE OUTLAW (AIP 1976)


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I discussed filmmaker Vernon Zimmerman in a post on his UNHOLY ROLLERS back in January. Zimmerman wrote the script (but did not direct) for 1976’s BOBBIE JO & THE OUTLAW, which on the surface is just another sex’n’violence laden redneck exploitation film. Yet after a recent viewing, it seemed to me Zimmerman was not just delving into exploitation, but exploring something more: disaffected youth, gun culture, the cult of personality, and violence in America, themes that still resonate today.

Former child evangelist turned rock star turned actor Marjoe Gortner is Lyle Wheeler, a drifter who enters quick draw contests and idolizes Billy the Kid. Lyle’s a hustler, as we find out as he pulls into a gas station and steals a Mustang from a travelling salesman. Lyle outruns a police car hot on his tail, causing the cop to go off the road, and revs into the next town, where…

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A Movie A Day #224: Armed and Dangerous (1986, directed by Mark L. Lester)


John Candy and Eugene Levy make a great team in the underrated comedy, Armed and Dangerous.

John Candy plays Frank Dooley, a member of the LAPD.  One of the first scenes of the movie is Frank climbing up a tree to save a little boy’s kitten and then getting stuck in the tree himself.  When Frank discovers two corrupt detectives stealing televisions, Frank is framed for the theft and kicked off the force.

Eugene Levy plays Norman Kane, a lawyer whose latest client is a Charles Manson-style cult leader who has a swastika carved into his head.  After being repeatedly threatened with murder, Norman asks for a sidebar and requests that the judge sentence his client to life in prison.  The judge agrees on the condition that Norman, whom he describes as being “the worst attorney to ever appear before me,” find a new line of work.

Frank and Norman end up taking a one day training course to act as security guards and are assigned to work together by their tough by sympathetic supervisor (Meg Ryan!).  Assigned to guard a pharmaceutical warehouse, Frank and Norman stumble across a robbery.  The robbery leads them to corruption inside their own union and, before you can say 80s cop movie, Frank and Norman are ignoring the orders of their supervisors and investigating a crime that nobody wants solved.

Armed and Dangerous was one of the many comedy/cop hybrid films of the 1980s.  Like Beverly Hills Cop, it features Jonathan Banks as a bad guy.  Like the recruits in Police Academy, all of Frank and Norman’s fellow security guards are societal misfits who are distinguished by one or two eccentricities.  There is nothing ground-breaking about Armed and Dangerous but Mark Lester did a good job directing the movie and the team of Candy and Levy (who has previously worked together on SCTV) made me laugh more than a few times.

Armed and Dangerous was originally written to be a vehicle for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.  It’s easy to imagine Belushi and Aykroyd in the lead roles but I think the movie actually works better with Candy and Levy, whose comedic style was similar to but far less aggressive than that of Belushi and Aykroyd.  One of the reasons that Armed and Dangerous works is because John Candy and Eugene Levy seem like the two last people to ever find themselves in a shootout or a car chase.  With Belushi and Aykroyd, it would have been expected.  After all, everyone’s seen The Blues Brothers.

 

Danger Is Their Business: STUNTS (New Line Cinema 1977)


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With the success of films like WHITE LIGHTING, CANNONBALL, DEATH RACE 2000, and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (not to mention the continuing fascination with Evel Knenevel), movies revolving around stunts and stuntmen were big box office in the 1970’s. New Line Cinema took note and produced STUNTS, a murder mystery about stuntmen being killed off that gives us a behind-the-scenes look at low-budget filmmaking in addition to a good cast and well-staged action.

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When stuntman Greg Wilson’s hanging from a helicopter gag goes horribly awry, resulting in him plummeting to his death, his brother Glen arrives on the set determined to do the stunt himself and investigate Greg’s demise. Along the way he picks up B.J. Parswell, an attractive reporter doing a story on stuntmen. Glen’s fellow stuntmen start getting picked off one by one in gruesome “accidents”, and he must find the killer before he becomes next.

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This basic variation on “Ten…

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Film Review: Instinct to Kill (Dir by Gustavo Graef Marino)


Hi there and welcome to another edition of Lisa Marie Watches An Obscure Film Via On Demand And Then Reviews It.

Last week, I watched and reviewed a 2001 guilty pleasure called Tart.

This week, I watched another film from 2001, Instinct to Kill.

Instinct to Kill begins with homicide detective Jim Beckett (Tim Abell) sitting outside a suburban house and secretly filming Tess (Missy Crider) as she dresses.  As Jim watches, Tess joins her parents for dinner.  Tess’s father strikes her mother.  In case we needed anymore reason to hate him, Jim chuckles.

A day later, Tess is at cheerleader practice and again, she is being watched.  Sitting in the bleachers, Jim films her until he finally approaches her and strikes up a conversation.  Jim may be creepy but he’s also charming. Agck!

The film jumps forward 3 months.  Tess and Jim are getting married.  Jim and his partner Lance (Kadeem Hardison) spend the reception filming the bridesmaids and leering over  all the cleavage.  Bad Jim, bad!

And again, the film moves forward by 3 months.  As all too often happens, the daughter of an abusive father has ended up with an abusive husband.  As Jim attempts to murder Tess, Lance rushes into the house with his gun drawn.  Jim is arrested and sent to prison.

3 months later, Jim escapes from prison and, after retrieving a disguise kit from his own abusive father, Jim starts to stalk his ex-wife, her family, and her friends.  As Lance attempts to track down his former friend, Tess gets a bodyguard and a self-defense instructor in the form of J.T. (Mark Dacascos).

According to the imdb, Instinct to Kill was rated R for featuring “brutal violence and strong sexual content” and yes, it certainly had both of those.  However, to be honest, if you toned down the violence and edited out all of the boob shots, Instinct to Kill would be an almost prototypical Lifetime movie. After all, it has all the classic Lifetime elements: a sociopathic ex-husband, a sensitive guy who teaches self-defense, and a female protagonist who comes out of it all newly empowered and confident.  Fortunately, I happen to love Lifetime movies and maybe that’s why, somewhat to my surprise, I actually found Instinct to Kill to be an effective B-movie.

Some of that may also be due to the fact that Instinct To Kill’s executive producer was Mark L. Lester, who has directed some of the best B-movies of all time.  (He also directed The Ex, which has become a bit of a staple on the Lifetime Movie Network.)  I don’t know how involved Lester actually was with the production of this film but it feels much like a Lester film — the villain is flamboyant, the action moves quickly, and the end result packs much more of an emotional punch than you would expect.

Instinct to Kill may have a generic title but it’s definitely not a generic film.  Tim Abell makes for a genuinely scary villain and Mark Dacascos is the epitome of strength and sensitivity.  That said, the film’s best performance comes from Missy Crider, who believably transforms from being a helpless victim to an empowered warrior over the course of the film and, as a result, elevates the entire film.

Missy Crider in Instinct to Kill

 

 

What Lisa Watched Last Night: The Ex (dir. by Mark L. Lester)


Last night, I watched The Ex on the Lifetime Movie Network.

Why Was I Watching It?

As I was feeling ill, I had already made myself a little pillow fort in the living room and I was curled up with my wonderfully soft Hello Kitty pillow.  It just seemed, at that moment, that watching the Lifetime Movie Network was really the only appropriate thing to do.  (Plus, quite frankly, my options are limited now that we’re between seasons of Survivor, The Amazing Race, Big Brother, and Hell’s Kitchen.)

What’s It About?

Psychotic Yancy Butler, having already committed two murders, decides to move to New York and stalk her ex-husband (played by Nick Mancuso).  Since leaving Butler, Mancuso has married Suzy Amis and now has a five year-old son who is dealing with rage issues of his own.  After befriending Amis, Butler forces her way into Mancuso’s life and kills a lot of people.

 What Worked:

Yancy Butler gives a wonderfully over-the-top, campy performance that is full of arched eyebrows and sardonic smirks.  She delivers every line as if she’s auditioning for a community theater production of Double Indemnity.  She appears to be having so much fun with her role that you actually end up hoping that she’ll manage to kill both Mancuso and Amis (both of whom are far less entertaining). 

Director Mark L. Lester is an exploitation vet (he’s best known for directing The Class of 1984) and, as a result, this film has a bit more flair than what you typically find on the Lifetime Movie Network.

What Didn’t Work

This is a Canadian film that apparently went straight-to-video in the States.  As a result, New York City looks a lot like Toronto.

“Oh My God!  Just Like Me!” Moment

I have almost the exact same outfit hanging in my closet that Yancy Butler wears in the 1st few scenes of this movie.

Lessons Learned:

Your man’s ex really is as much of a psycho bitch as you think she is.