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.

The Good Life (1997)

Once upon a time — let’s say 1997 — Sylvester Stallone agreed to a cameo appearance in his brother Frank’s passion project, a film about three golfers who move from New Jersey to Miami, with two of them killing the third. It was called The Good Life. And if you can’t remember it, that’s because unlike nearly every movie that eventually leaks and is released, it’s just gone. Poof. Thin air. Beyond the curtain invisible, as it were.

According to this amazing article on Little White Lies, this film from producers Alan and Diane Mehrez focused on the three main characters being involved with organized crime, such as an unpaid debt to Mr. B (Dennis Hopper). Most folks associated with the film compare it to The Sopranos and it was to start with a disclaimer about how often the characters would swear.

Other than the aforementioned Stallone brothers, the film also featured Andrew “Dice” Clay, Peter Dobson (Elvis Presley in Forrest Gump), David Carradine, Beverly D’Angelo (National Lampoon’s Vacation), Frank Vincent (Phil Leotardo from The Sopranos), Tony Sirico (another character from The Sopranos, Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri), Burt Young (Rocky, sure, but I love him from Amityville II: The Possession), former boxer Vinny Pazienza, stuntman Erik Betts and David Anthony Pizzuto (the voice of Willem Dafoe on Family Guy).

Even when the film hit production snags and moved from Miami to Mexico, bringing in Alan Amiel (Shootfighter: Fight to the Death) to help, the crew was impressed with the footage they were getting. However, by the time filming was done, Frank Stallone and the Mehrezes were not getting along. Then, the worst thing that could happen happened.

A promotional reel featuring clips from Sylvester Stallone’s scene — making him seem like the main character — started making the rounds of Hollywood.

If we’ve learned anything about Sylvester Stallone over the weeks that we’ve explored his films, it’s that he takes no shit. He agreed to do this film for two sets of custom-made Kenneth Smith golf club. And he worked hard — a ten-hour day — on his lone day on set, longer than all of the other principal actors. But he also had a clause in his contract that limited the use of his name and likeness in the film’s advertising. Once that got invalidated, he hit the movie with a $20 million dollar lawsuit — 4 times its overall budget.

A month later, Frank Stallone sued and then the Mehrezes countersued — O.J. Simpson trial prosecutor Chris Darden was on their legal team — both Stallone’s for $50 million dollars. There was supposedly an amicable settlement but the film has never escaped afterward. In a day and age where everything is available on blu ray and streaming, the fact that a movie made within the last 25 years — one starring known name actors — has disappeared is pretty astounding.

This grainy clip is all the world has seen:

It’s not Sly’s The Day the Clown Cried. But it’s close.

Cop Land (1997)

As with Stallone’s Rhinestone, in which he starred as a country-singing New York cabbie (1984), Oscar (1991), a remake of a French crime comedy, and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, a buddy cop comedy that he cites as one of the films he wished he’d never done, Cop Land was Stallone’s fourth attempt to expand his resume beyond the one-dimensional action films of his past, such as Cobra, Cliffhanger, and Demolition Man, with a film that offered more character-driven content.

Written and directed by James Mangold (he made his writing and directing debut with the excellent 1995 grunge-era drama, Heavy, directed 2013’s The Wolverine, and received an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay for the 2017 Marvel Universe entry, Logan), Cop Land is an “urban western” that tells the story of a small town sheriff, Freddy Helflin (Stallone), who fights corruption in the town of Garrison, New Jersey, at the hands of a gang of corrupt New York City cops that live in the town led by Ray Donian (Harvey Keitel) and Gary Figgs (Ray Liotta). To battle the corruption, Internal Affairs Office Moe Tidlen (Robert De Niro) presses Helflin into service.

While the film cleared just under $65 million at the box office on a $15 million budget, the film was considered a flop that Stallone felt hurt his career as an action star. While the film was an attempt to show his acting skills and initiate a career change into dramatic acting, he ended up being critically derided by the fans of his action films—just as they had rejected his attempts at comedy—who felt he failed to equal the chops of the acting dynasties that are Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel.

Looking back at the fact that Ray Liotta did Goodfellas seven years earlier alongside De Niro, this was obviously meant to be Stallone’s “Goodfellas,” with corrupt cops instead of mobsters. Is Cop Land as good as Goodfellas? Well, while Cop Land wasn’t graced with what seems around-the-clock cable TV replays, Stallone’s Freddy Helfin is the most real person he’s portrayed on film since 1976’s Rocky and 1974’s The Lords of Flatbush.

So if your only exposure to Sylvester Stallone’s oeuvre is his action work and you’ve avoided Cop Land and F.I.S.T. because of the film’s mixed reviews, do make a point of popping in a DVD (or log onto whatever digital platform) and watch both films as double feature to see the true depth and skill of Stallone’s thespian abilities and know that he’s not just a “personality based actor” who rattles off dialog.

Sylvester Stallone is an Oscar caliber actor that, hopefully, as he ages out of his abilities to do action pictures such as The Expendables, he’ll be given an opportunity to shine in more character-driven pieces. It’s all a matter of box office. If Cop Land had been a critical and box office smash analogous to Goodfellas, I believe Stallone would have received a Best Actor nod. Cop Land is a highly underrated film and Stallone’s greatest moment in front of the camera.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

Switchback (1997)

Jeb Stuart has written or co-written some of the biggest movies ever — Die HardLock UpThe FugitiveJust Cause and Another 48 Hrs. He also wrote an early draft of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull called Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars.

In 1997, he made his directorial debut with this film, whose negative critical reception led to him semi-retiring from filmmaking for over a decade. In 2010, he wrote, produced and directed Blood Done Sign My Name, adapted from the autobiography of author and historian Timothy Tyson.

Dennis Quaid is Special Agent Frank LaCrosse, who has been tracking the serial killer who took his son to get him off the case. That brings him to Amarillo, where he meets Sheriff Buck Olmstead (R. Lee Ermey) and police chief Jack McGinnis (William Fichtner), who are battling over the election. While all that is going on, Dr. Lane Dixon (Jared Leto) is picked up by Bob Goodall (Danny Glover), a drifter driving a white Cadillac filled with cheesecake photos.

The path to discovering who the killer is takes a long time, but this feels like a movie more concerned with the small things. I love Ermey and Fichtner is just about everything they ever did, but this film adds on to the character actor greatness by giving you Ted Levine, Walton Goggins and Maggie Roswell (Maude Flanders from The Simpsons and Donna from Midnight Madness).

Amazingly, Steven Seagal was almost the lead in this movie, which would have totally changed everything. It was originally called Going West In America, too.

Spoiler: This is only the second movie where I’ve seen Danny Glover as the bad guy. The other is Witness.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Jackie Brown (1997)

Jackie Brown is the only Tarantino movie — so far — based on a previous work, the book Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch. Inspired by Coffy and Foxy Brown — just look at that poster — and starring Pam Grier and Robert Forster, who hadn’t had lead roles in years. Although Tarantino took liberties with the novel, Leonard loved the screenplay, saying that not only was it the best adaption of his work, but the best screenplay he’d ever read.

Grier had been considered for Pulp Fiction, but didn’t expect Tarantino to call her back after that film was such a succes. When she showed up to read for the part, Tarantino had posters of her films all over his office. That wasn’t to impress her — the auteur just loved her movies that much.

Jackie Brown (Grier) is flight attendant for a Mexican airline who makes extra money smuggling for Ordell Robbie (Samuel Jackson), a gun runner and ne’er do well. Ordell is being watched by ATF agent Ray Nicholette (Michael Keaton, who plays the same role in Out of Sight)and LAPD detective Mark Dargus, who intercept Jackie as she returns to the US.

Meanwhile, one of Odell’s couriers, Beaumont Livingston (Chris Tucker) is arrested and needs bailed out before he becomes an informant. Odell pays Max Cherry (Forster) for the bond, then puts Livingston in a car trunk and kills hom.

Jackie’s in jail now, which leads Odell to think she’ll rat on him. He pays Max for her bond as well and the gruff older bondsman immediately falls for her. Odell comes to her house with murder on his mind, but Jackie has taken Max’s gun and they make a deal — she’ll pretend to help the cops while smuggling $550,000 of his money so that he can finally retire.

Odell’s partners on this deal are his live-in girl Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda) — it’s unsure if they are ever truly lovers — and his former cellmate Louis Gara (Robert De Niro). Melanie is based on Candice Rialson, the 1970’s actress who was in PetsChatterbox!Moonshine County Express and so many more.

The law has a sting to catch Odell, but Jackie plans on double crossing everyone, bringing Max in on the scam.

What follows is a Rashomon like accounting of each person’s role in events that follow at the Del Amo Fashion Center, leaving just about everyone dead. Odell tries to take out Max and Jackie, but he’s led into a trap by the ATF and killed, too. That leaves our heroine, ready to leave the country with just a goodbye kiss for Max Cherry, who isn’t so sure he should stay behind.

This movie was pretty controversial — and still is — for the thirty-eight n-bombs thrown throughout its story. Spike Lee went as far to complain to Harvey Weinstein and Lawrence Bender, concerned that the director was “infatuated with that word.” But Tarantino saw differently saying, “the minute any word has that much power, as far as I’m concerned, everyone on the planet should scream it. No word deserves that much power.” Samuel L. Jackson, who has worked with Lee, defended Tarantino.

I kind of love that Sid Haig shows up to play a judge in this movie. I don’t know that he’s ever been on that side of the law before.

As for the characters, Louis and Ordell first appeared in Elmore Leonard’s novel The Switch. It’s a story about them kidnapping a millionaire’s wife, only to discover he doesn’t want her back. In the book Rum Punch, they complain that a movie producer stole their idea and made Ruthless People.

Ground Rules (1997)

Sam’s note: R.D Francis is back with another movie — Ground Rules — which combines a few of my favorite genres: kinda sorta post-apocalyptic with a bit of fake sport and some generous helpings or Richard Lynch. Enjoy!

While the cover art suggests it, Ground Rules isn’t a post-nuke flick: it’s a present-day Rollerball-cum-Deathsport-cum-2072: The New Gladiators rip (without the budget) that reminds of the Rollerball 2002 remake — only this came first. It also reminds of George Romero’s Knightriders (1981) with its present-day, medieval-jousting knights on motorcycles, and that cable movie-inversion of Rollerball on hover-skateboards cooked up by Wesley Snipes: Futuresport.

Rocky’s brother, Frank Stallone (“Far from Over,” his U.S Top 10 radio hit from the Sly-directed Staying Alive), stars as a champion Battle Ball player—a San Francisco-based underground sport where motocross teams equipped with metal claw-jai alai scoops and bike/hockey armor shoot a “silver metal ball” into a roll-caged dune buggy used as a “moving goal.” (Holy almost-nude-basketball-with-a-silver-soccer-ball-and-hockey-cod-pieces Triad match flashback aboard the Battlestar Galactica, Batman!)

Real life movie stuntman Sean P. Donahue (the brother of the film’s co-writer-director-stuntman, Patrick G.), is “Jack,” Frank Stallone’s bike mechanic, who has his own dreams of getting on the Battle Ball field. When Jack discovers Stallone and the team’s owner, Case, are in cahoots with a corrupt senator manipulating the game so players are killed on the field to increase ratings and gambling revenues (as in the later Rollerball 2002 remake), Jack revolts (like Jonathan E.) and hits the dirt for a rival team. In a Rollerball 1975 plot-point: Jack knows too much and needs to be eliminated—during the game. So for the final Battle Ball championship game: there are no rules.

“Jack’s Dead . . . uh, we mean, Jonathan’s Dead,” chants the red, white and blue-clad warriors of the New York team as their bikes roar into the arena.

The somewhat family-friendly, profanity-free script—considering the violent action flicks it’s pseudo-emulating—leaves the proceedings feel like a Christian action flick, if there even is such a thing. In addition, the film’s inadequate budget hampers what is actually a pretty decent plot-concept with imaginative, well-choreographed action sequences—when one considers the sports-reality programs American Gladiators from the ‘90s and today’s American Ninja Warriors. Let’s rev up the bikes—a Battle Ball reality TV series sounds good to me!

While the discriminating apoc-fan will pass on Ground Rules, Richard Lynch fans—such as yours truly—are on board. The movie’s most burning question: How much of Case’s character is in the original script and how much of it was developed through Richard Lynch’s theatre and New York’s The Actors Studio training?

What could have been a dry, boilerplate cackling-villain in another actor’s hands, Lynch developed a white-suited underworld-criminal Howard Hughes; a Kleenex and latex fetishist germ-a-phobic who rides a rodeo mechanical bull in his office as he chastises people for getting too close, urges them not to touch him, and constantly puts a mask over his face to protect himself “from their stink.”

How’s that for subtext? (You go, Wolfe! You go, Xavier! Sorry, more obscure Battlestar Galactica references are afoot.)

God love Alan Rickman and his haughty, university-educated terrorist Hans Gruber, but Hollywood missed the casting boat by not pitting a Richard Lynch-brewed antagonist against the smarmy John McClane. . . .

“Bring me back some tissues (a line from Ground Rules),” sniffs Case after sending one of his henchmen to shoot that son-of-a-bitch McClane.

That’s right. Simon says Ankar Moor from Deathsport will kick your ass.

How quickly we forget Richard Lynch kicked Chuck Norris’s ass in Invasion U.S.A and took Al Pacino’s to task in Scarecrow. Damn, Richard Lynch. You and Klaus Kinski are my acting heroes: you make everything enjoyable.

As for the multitalented Brothers Donahue: Before moving into the studio and picture development business with their New Gold Pictures, the siblings started as stunt coordinators on a slew of successful cable and video action movies. While Patrick moved behind the camera, his brother, Sean, move to the front of the lens.

Sean’s other roles include the popular video rentals Diamond Run (1996; a Rambo-rip), Starhunter (1996; a Predator-rip with Roddy McDowall), Omega Cop (1990; an Escape from New York-rip with Adam West), and Big Trouble in Little China’s James Hong’s writing and directing debut, The Vineyard (1989).

Writer Derrick Costa—who also got his start in the business as a stunt man—doubled for Bruce “Ash” Campbell in the SyFy Channel movie Assault on Dome 4 (1996), and for Lou Diamond Phillips in Alien Express (2005). Co-writer Marty Poole scripted the Hyung-rae Shims remake/homage to Yongary, Monster from the Deep (1967) known as Reptile: 2001 (aka, Yonggary), and a neat Elvis “what if” rock ‘n’ roll flick, Protecting the King (1999).

You can now direct-purchase DVDs of Ground Rules, along with the Donahue Brothers’ Andy Sidaris-styled action favorites, including: Kill Squad (1982), They Call Me Macho Woman (1991), and Parole Violators (1994) through their New Gold Studios imprint.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.