Contagious (1997)

Could a major infectious disease cripple America? This TV movie presents this far-fetched…wait, I’ve been inside my house for two months because of one? Never mind. This movie is quaint by comparison to the life we’ve been living.

Dr. Hannah Cole (former bionic Lindsay Wagner) finds herself investigating an epidemic while her Tom Wopat-plated husband takes the kids camping and gets sick.

How did the disease start? A lab? A bat? Nope. Bad shrimp on an airplane, the kind of thing that would give Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the sweats. Here it gets into a coke mule’s stomach. He gets cut open for the drugs, everyone dies and the world pays the price for that sweet, sweet white powder trade.

If you love Elizabeth Pena and enjoy movies where people just rant exposition at you, have I got some great news for you! You can watch this on YouTube:

REPOST: Double Team (1997)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was originally posted on July 9, 2019. You have to love when a movie starts like The Prisoner and ends with Dennis Rodman, Mickey Rourke and a tiger menacing a baby. 

If you think of directors from the Golden Age of Hong Kong cinema, Tsui Hark has to be on the list thanks to directing movies like Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain and the Once Upon a Time in China series, as well as producing The KillerA Better Tomorrow and Black Mask amongst many others.

In the 1990’s, instead of continually stealing from Hong Kong movies, Hollywood decided to go directly to the source and work with its most well-known directors. Other than this film, Hark also made another Van Damme film, Knock Off, which co-starred Rob Schneider. Frustrated by the lack of creative control, hark would eventually return to Hong Kong.

Somehow, one of world cinema’s greatest action directors ended up working on a film with Dennis Rodman in it. The results? Three Razzie wins for worst new star, worst supporting actor and worst screen couple, all for Rodman with Van Dam helping on the latter. Still, Rodman has no less than six hair color and style changes in the film, continuity be damned.

Jean-Claude Van Dam is Jack Paul Quinn, an anti-terrorism expert brought out of retirement by his nemesis Stavros (Mickey Rourke, so for those of you like me who were always wondering, “Could JCDV beat up Mickey Rourke?” you’ll get your answer). That big bad blames our hero for the death of his son, so he kidnaps Jack Paul’s pregnant wife Kathryn.

Where can our hero turn? To one man: the arms dealer named Yaz (Rodman), who has weapons so new even he doesn’t know what they are.

What Stavros doesn’t know is that Jack Paul tried to stop the mission that killed his boy, but that doesn’t matter. His failure to stop the man led to him being placed in The Colony, which is just like the TV show The Prisoner, in that it’s used to keep agents too valuable to kill but too dangerous to set free. So they all work toward monitoring terrorist threats and are kept from the rest of the world and their families because, you know, spy business.

While Jack Paul is there, his handler is Alex Goldsmythe (Paul Freeman, Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark). When Stavros ends up kidnapping our hero’s wife, Yaz helps him find his enemy and battle him in the bomb-rigged Roman Coliseum (actually the Arles Amphitheater in Southern France).

Somehow, I didn’t ever think I’d see a movie where Van Damme and Rodman battled a tiger and Mickey Rourke while trying to save a baby in a basket. Yet here it is. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing things in my life the right way. I guess this is proof one way or the other.

There is an amazing scene where Van Damme uses an apartment to train to escape The Colony. Watch him do curls in his bare feet! Watch him light a cigarette to test how long he can hold his watch in a bathtub! Watch him do many, many splits! Also: every single time Van Damme and Rodman fist bump, I would collapse in total guffaws, as Hark decided to do a short Fulci zoom at times into their hands. Amazing.

That said, the fights are decent — perhaps because Sammo Hung was choreographing them. I wonder what the original film — The Colony — was like before JCVD’s lengthy rewrites. I’d assume Rodman was nowhere nearby, nor was there a scene where Van Damme dressed as a street punk.

You can get the new blu ray reissue of Double Team from Mill Creek Entertainment.

DISCLAIMER: Mill Creek Entertainment sent us this movie, but that has no bearing on our review.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Roger Spottiswoode directed Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, which does not seem like a movie that would prepare you for making a Bond film. Nonetheless, this is a fine offering, particularly because of Michelle Yeoh, who plays Chinese spy Colonel Wai Lin.

This time, Bond is up against Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), a media mogul who is trying to start World War III to increase his ratings. To top things off, his trophy wife Paris Carver is one of Bond’s many ex-girlfriends.

After she’s killed by Carver’s henchman Dr. Kaufman (Vincent Schiavelli), Bond is out not just to solve this case, but for revenge.

Ricky Jay shows up in this as cyberterrorist Henry Gupta. He’s always a welcome face in films. I’d recommend that you watch Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants, a filmed version of his stage show of card magic. Between acting, writing and becoming the collector of magic information and history, Jay was a fascinating human being.

I also find it amusing that Yeoh wasn’t allowed to perform all of her own stunts. If you’ve seen her in movies like Supercop, you’ll realize that she’s more than the equal of anyone that was doubling for her. That said, she did some of her own fighting. For the fight scene in the bicycle shop, the producers had to call in Jackie Chan’s stunt team, because none of the stuntmen wanted to do the full contact style that she had perfected while a member of that group.

Here’s a strange thing: Sir Anthony Hopkins was cast as Carver, but quit after three days because it was so chaotic. There was big pressure on EON Productions to finish the movie on time, so the script was being written on the fly and new pages were being sent every morning. He chose to be in The Mask of Zorro — directed by GoldenEye‘s Martin Campbell — instead.

REPOST: The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This review originally ran on December 3, 2019. As part of our month of all things James Bond, it’s back, thanks to it featuring the same Nancy Sinatra song from 1966’s The Last of the Secret Agents?

It’s always intriguing to me when I look up a director and discover that I’ve watched more of their films than I realized. Case in point — Jon Amiel. As I started writing this article about The Man Who Knew Too Little, I was surprised to learn that I’d seen so many of his films, like CopycatEntrapment and The Core.

Beyond its title being a play on Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, it was written by British musician Robert Farrar, whose book Watch That Man was the inspiration for the movie, and Howard Franklin, who co-wrote and co-directed Quick Change with Bill Murray.

Speaking of Bill Murray…

This movie wouldn’t work with anyone else. As Wallace Ritchie, he’s an idiotic everyman that you just have to fall in love with. As he goes to London to visit his brother James (Peter Gallagher), he’s set up to be part of an interactive improv theater group. Nine years before The Game, a very similar series of events occurs.

Joanna Whalley, who was once married to Val Kilmer and was a member of the post-punk Manchester music scene, shows up as a femme fatale. And Alfred Molina is wonderful in his role as an assassin.

In a perfect world, they would have made numerous versions of this. Think of it as an American Mr. Bean.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

As discussed in our review of The 10th Victim, Austin Powers came about as a result of being inspired by that strange 60’s precursor to The Running Man

Austin Powers started in a Mike Myers music side project known as Ming Tea, the sponsor from that movie. Featuring Myers as Austin on vocals, The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs as Gillian Shagwell, Matthew Sweet as Sid Belvedere, Stuart Johnson as Manny Stixman and Christopher Ward as Trevor Aigburth, the band recorded several songs, including two that appeared in Austin Powers films.

Myers’ then-wife Robin Ruzan encouraged him to write a film based on the character. This movie, directed by Hoffs’ husband Jay Roach, is the result.

Myers said, “After my dad died in 1991, I was taking stock of his influence on me as a person and his influence on me with comedy in general. So Austin Powers was a tribute to my father, who [introduced me to] James Bond, Peter Sellers, the Beatles, The Goodies, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.”

The funny thing is that Myers ended up having a direct impact on Bond. Daniel Craig credits the Austin Powers franchise with the serious tone of his version of 007. “We had to destroy the myth because Mike Myers fucked us.”

Back in 1967, Austin Danger Powers (Myers) was the greatest secret agent in the world. Teaming with the Mrs. Peel analogue Mrs. Kensington (Mimi Rogers), he chases his arch-foe Dr. Evil (also Myers, although Jim Carrey was who was supposed to get the role; Liar Liar went long and Myers took over. For what it’s worth, Myers feuded with Wayne’s World co-star Dana Carvey over the idea that he stole Carvey’s Lorne Michaels impression for this role) into a nightclub before the villain launches his Big Boy satellite into space.

Thirty years later, the world has changed. Dr. Evil returns to learn his henchman Number 2 (Robert Wagner) has gone legit, gotten rich and developed Virtucon into a real company. He also has a genetically engineered son, Scott Evil (Seth Green) to deal with.

An unfrozen Powers — who went into cryosleep to be ready for when the world needs him — is dealing with similar issues. Now partnered with Kensington’s daughter (Elizabeth Hurley), he must battle fembots and henchmen while dealing with a world where drug use and indiscriminate sex are frowned upon.

There are plenty of great villains, like Rosa Klebb-ish Fray Farbissina, Alotta Fagina (a Bond name if one ever heard one), Will Farrell as Mustafa and former MMA fighter Joe Son as the Oddjob-like Random Task.

You have to love a movie that has cameos from Charles Napier, Clint Howard and Michael York. Actually, I love this whole silly movie, despite disliking it the first time I watched it. I was in the wrong mood and with the wrong people. Now, years later, I turn to this movie as sheer comfort watching.

It’s so Bond that Dr. Evil has a cat, just like Blofeld. Mr. Bigglesworth is one of my favorite recurring gags, because when he gets angry, people die. Here’s some interesting trivia: the cat’s real name was Ted Nude-gent.

Beyond Bond, this is a movie awash in influences. Everything from the British show Adam Adamant Lives! to Derek Flint, Doctor Goldfoot and Get Smart! get put into this cultural mashup machine with very happy results.

There’s also a cut scene where Lois Chiles — Holly Goodhead herself! — cameos as the widow of the Dr. Evil henchman run over by the steamroller.

Heaven’s Burning (1997)

Heaven’s Burning was Russell Crowe’s last Australian film until 2014’s The Water Diviner. He plays a getaway driver who goes on a deadly road trip with a runaway Japanese bride (Youki Kudoh, Rush Hour 3) pursued by both hired killers, her jilted husband and the police.

Robert Mammone, who played Blanka in Street Fighter and opposed “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in The Condemned, is in this. So is Colin Hay, who was the lead singer of Men at Work, whose 1980’s songs were a major Australian export and convinced many an American kid — like me — to try vegemite.

A 1990’s road movie with a downer ending that I’ve never heard about? Ah, movies are filled with so much magic. Throw in a Japanese star and someone who went on to much bigger things and you have a genuine item of interest.

Heaven’s Burning is now available digitally for the first time and has been re-released on DVD by High Octane Pictures.

DISCLAIMER: This movie was sent to us by its PR company.

Tower of Terror (1997)

Donald James “D.J.” MacHale is a writer, director and executive producer that is probably best known for the show Are You Afraid of the Dark? and for creating two different young adult book series, Pendragon and Morpheus Road. He would write and direct this Disney Channel exploration of another Disney attraction.

This movie paved the way for the success of Pirates of the Carribean, which also turned theme park rides into movies, as well as Mission to MarsThe Haunted Mansion and The Country Bears.

It’s surprisingly way better — and more emotional — than I thought it would be when we purchased the DVD.

Buzzy Crocker (Steve Guttenberg) was fired from the Los Angeles Banner when a story turned out to be fake. His ex-girlfriend Jill (Nia Peebles) still works there and wants to try to get him back, but now he writes for The National Inquisitor with the help of his niece Anna (Kristen Dunst).

An old woman named Abigail Gregory (Amzie Strickland) tells Buzzy that on Halloween 1939, she saw the incident that forever closed the Hollywood Tower Hotel and caused the disappearance of child star Sally Shine (Lindsay Ridgeway from Boy Meets World), singer Carolyn Crosson (Melora Hardin, who was both Jan on The Office and Monk’s deceased wife), nanny Emeline Partridge, actor Gilbert London and bellhop Dewey Todd (John Franklin, Isaac from Children of the Corn and Cousin Itt in the 1990’s version of The Addams Family), who were all on their way to a party at the Tip Top Club.

To discover what really happened, Buzzy and Anna get the help of Chris “Q” Todd, the hotel caretaker and grandson of the aforementioned bellhop Dewey. If the truth is revealed, Chris will inherit the hotel if an explanation.

There are twists, turns and no small amount of tears and emotion, way more than you would think would be possible in a Disney Channel movie.

Most of the tower footage in the film was shot at the actual Tower of Terror attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

MacHale would bring back Dewey Todd in his Pendragon books. He appears in The Never War and in The Pilgrims of Rayne, it’s revealed that he disappeared in the Hollywood Tower Hotel.

Conspiracy Theory (1997)

Richard Donner made The Omen and Superman, so I have to cut him some slack sometimes. He also made The GooniesScrooged, the Lethal Weapon movies and The Toy. So yeah. I give him plenty of slack.

It was written by Brian Helgeland, who started his career with 976-EVIL, which led to A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. He also wrote and directed 42 and Legend, about the Kray twins.

The two met when Donner saw Helgeland holding a sign that said, “Will write for work, for money”. Donner had decided to give Helgeland a chance, which led to the two of them working on this movie and on Assassins.

Mel Gibson plays Jerry Fletcher, the nicest conspiracy-theorist and New York City taxi driver ever created by Hollywood, who is in love with Alice Sutton, a Justice Department lawyer played by Julia Roberts. She humors him because he once saved her from a mugging, but then again, he also stalks her.

Soon, they are both in conflict with CIA doctor Dr. Jonas (Patrick Stewart), who coincidentally experimented on Fletcher and killed Sutton’s father. You know how it works in these big budget conspiracy affairs.

Here’s something that also shouldn’t surprise you: Gibson ad-libbed all of his lines as a cabbie as he scares his passengers with his ranting theories.

The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)

It’s always intriguing to me when I look up a director and discover that I’ve watched more of their films than I realized. Case in point — Jon Amiel. As I started writing this article about The Man Who Knew Too Little, I was surprised to learn that I’d seen so many of his films, like CopycatEntrapment and The Core.

Beyond its title being a play on Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, it was written by British musician Robert Farrar, whose book Watch That Man was the inspiration for the movie, and Howard Franklin, who co-wrote and co-directed Quick Change with Bill Murray.

Speaking of Bill Murray…

This movie wouldn’t work with anyone else. As Wallace Ritchie, he’s an idiotic everyman that you just have to fall in love with. As he goes to London to visit his brother James (Peter Gallagher), he’s set up to be part of an interactive improv theater group. Nine years before The Game, a very similar series of events occurs.

Joanna Whalley, who was once married to Val Kilmer and was a member of the post-punk Manchester music scene, shows up as a femme fatale. And Alfred Molina is wonderful in his role as an assassin.

In a perfect world, they would have made numerous versions of this. Think of it as an American Mr. Bean.

The Wax Mask (1997)

After discovering just bad Lucio Fulci’s health was, Dario Argento decided to help him find a new project in the hopes that directing would lift his spirits and his well-being. Sadly, pre-production and Argento’s work on The Stendahl Syndrome went on a few months too long and Fulci died before production could begin.

The two directors rarely got along and disagreed throughout pre-production. Ironically, Fulci wanted a classical horror movie while Argento wanted to increase the gore. Go figure.

Argento turned the project over to special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, who created the effects for DemonsHands of SteelOperaThe ChurchCemetery Man and many more Italian horror films. He adjusted the script to increase the special effects. It brought a tear to my eye to see the dedication to Fulci before the film began.

We open in Paris in 1900, as a moving camera gives way to black-gloved hands, revealing a couple who has been murdered by a masked killer with metal claws.

Fast-forward to 1912. There’s a new wax museum in Rome and much like House of Wax, it’s known for having lifelike murder scenes. Meanwhile, the daughter of the couple we saw murdered in the opening, Sonia Lafont, is now a costume designer who wants to work for the museum’s owner and main artist, Boris Volkoff. Yet all is not as it seems. As people disappear and others die inside the museum, new figures begin to appear in its exhibits.

What makes this movie isn’t the story or the acting, but the gorgeous production design and strange combination of Victorian machinery with Terminator-like machines. Sure, some of the animation and fire effects look rough today, but the creature and gore effects are incredibly strong even twenty-plus years after its release.

While this will be streaming on Shudder as of October 14, you should just order it from the awesome people at Severin. Their release is absolutely loaded with extras, including interviews with Argento, Fulci, Stivaletti and more. There’s also a limited edition with an exclusive slipcover and the soundtrack to the film.