No Code of Conduct and A Letter from Death Row (1998)

Did you know that actor Charlie Sheen and Poison’s lead vocalist Bret Michaels (The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years) are best buds? So much so that they formed their own production company, Sheen Michaels Entertainment. Another principal in the company is writer-director Nick Cassavetes (remembering that Sheen and Cassavetes co-starred in The Wraith).

The company’s debut release was the chick-flicky drama Unhook the Stars (1996), followed by the Sean Penn-starrer She’s So Lovely (1997), both written and directed by Cassavetes. Charlie Sheen starred in the shingle’s third production, Under Pressure, aka Bad Day on the Block (1997), a tale about a psychotic fireman’s (Sheen) obsession with a family he saved from a fire (remembering 1992’s Unlawful Entry with Ray Liotta’s crazy cop). The company’s best known and most successful film (box office, not critically) was the action buddy-comedy Money Talks (1997), in which Chris Tucker co-starred with Sheen.

Prior to shutting down the shingle in 1999 (for a total of 9 films and 2 documentaries), the studio also produced the Charlie Sheen-narrated Discovery Mars (1997), the Zalman King-directed (Galaxy of Terror) surfing-drama In God’s Hands (1998, which also features Michaels in a support role), Free Money (1998), starring Marlon Brando, Donald Sutherland, and Sheen, and Five Aces (1999), also starring Sheen.

Hey, what about Bret Michaels?

Well, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? It is “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week,” after all.

Michaels wrote, directed, starred, and scored two crime-driven action-dramas for the company: No Code of Conduct, his debut, and A Letter from Death Row; the films are said to be sequels, but are, in fact, two distinct films unto themselves.

Yes. The man who gave you the hits “Unskinny Bop,” “I Want Action,” and rakes in the royalty greens with the constantly-spinning classic rock and classic hits radio staples “Nothing but a Good Time” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” carved out a career behind the camera.

No Code of Conduct

As with their mutual work in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, Charlie Sheen and his father, Martin Sheen, co-star in No Code of Conduct, as a strained father and son: this time they’re (troubled) vice detectives, with Martin’s Bill Peterson as the leader of the unit. When Charlie’s Jake Peterson’s partner dies on-the-job, the Petersons put their differences aside to find the killer. The investigation comes to uncover a Mexican drug smuggling ring that connects in Pheonix, Arizona. The action, as we say, ensues, with all of the expected car chases and crashes, rains of bullets, and exploding buildings . . . only on a less, cost-effective budget than the Sly Stallone films (1986’s Cobra, in particular), and Lethal Weapon, as well as your favorite John Woo squib-fest, it desires to be.

The dirty copy adventures also stars the always-welcomed Mark Dacascos (Double Dragon, The Base) and Estevez acting-family warhorse, little brother and Uncle Joe Estevez (300-credits strong, with a dozen films currently in production) and, of course, look for Bret Michaels in a supporting role as Frank “Shane” Fields. Yeah, there’s Joe Lando (of TV’s Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman). And hey! Is that the late Paul Gleason, playing yet another, arrogantly inept authority figure (this time, he’s DEA), as he did in Die Hard? Oh, and don’t forget his work as the put-upon school counselor in The Breakfast Club.

Hey, this Bret Michaels industry-calling was never intended to be more than a B-Movie (at a reported cost of $12,000,000) and Michaels is new to the game; so while the proceedings are second rate, it’s still not an Al Adamson-incompetent or Godfrey Ho-chopshop joint (know your B-Movie Kings), and pans out to be a decent little direct-to-video action romp. That’s not to say it is still not disheartening to see Charlie Sheen — who made his bones in Oliver Stone’s Platoon and wowed us in Wall Street — stuck in a direct-to-video sorta-kinda clunker, but he did give us the really fine No Man’s Land (1987). However, if not for this being a Bret Michaels joint — regardless of the likeable Mark Dacascos on board — we probably wouldn’t be writing this review (for “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week”).

A Letter from Death Row

Bret Michaels ups his game in his second joint, aka “creation,” starring in the lead role of Michael Raine — with Martin Sheen as his father (and, like his dad, Charlie also appears in a blink-and-he’s-gone cameo) — a Death Row convict (shot on location in Tennessee State Prison and casting real prisoners in roles).

As result of Michaels starring, this is the one most rock ‘n’ roll flick lovers have seen, first, only to then discover Michaels made his debut with No Code of Conduct. And, sadly, everyone drops the ol’ “Citizen Kane of Bad Movies,” the same snotty critical descriptor bestowed to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, for A Letter from Death Row.

So, is it as bad (or so bad it’s good) as a Wiseau joint? Is it better than — or worse than — No Code of Conduct? Well, you know how it goes down at the ol’ Road House, Dr. Dalton: opinions vary.

Ne’er-do-well, struggling songwriter and Nashville native Michael Raine moved to Philadelphia for a fresh start . . . and ends up convicted of murdering his exotic dancer girlfriend (for all glam rockers must date strippers) by pillow-smothering and lands himself on death row. He claims he’s innocent and someone broke into his home and did it . . . while he was practicing his sweet karate moves (look out, Napoleon!). Conveniently, thanks to Raine’s affinity for “sex games,” the cops have the crime on video tape. Of course, Raine’s dopey defense attorney (famed, but now, sadly late due to COVID, Nashville radio talk show host Phil Valentine, who may be great behind the mic but is awful in front of a camera) has his ulterior motives.

When we get to prison, everything goes film noir and Hitchcock-twisty, with Jessica Foster, the Chief of Staff — and mistress (and spy) — of the Governor of Tennessee writing a book on Raine’s high profile case . . . which leads to him being blackmailed by the also “wrongly convicted” jailhouse preacher Lucifer Jones (he raped an altar boy), who wants Foster to overturn his conviction. And it’s all very meta, as, while awaiting his execution, Raine’s penning a screenplay . . . of the very movie you’re watching . . . you got that?

And the “ensues” kick in . . . for if you’ve watched any episodes of Law & Order: TOS or SVU, you know that the Governor likes his strippers . . . and Raine’s just a pasty . . . and the dopey defense attorney, the warden and his brutal, second-in-command, natch, henchman are red herring flippin’ n’ floppin’ on the seedy n’ shady noir docks.

So, which is the better . . . or worse film?

No Code of Conduct is clearly — but not by much — the better film (thanks to Sheens sticking around longer), as I feel, for his second film, Bret Michaels bit off a bit too much from the creative Slim Jim.

If Michaels wanted to take a crack as a lead actor, he should have stuck to the thespin’ and left the directing to someone else. Sure, Michaels is Tiger Blood-trying, but he’s not a dual-auteur of the Clint Eastwood variety, here. The main weakness — but one that critics fail to understand — is that Michaels is not only inspired by classic ’40s film noir, he made a valiant attempt at recreating those films, not only in story, but in image — but no one in the contemporary home video marketplace wants to see a trope-laden retro-flick with flashbacks in cliched black & white, oddball camera angles, or tales broken down into chapters with title cards to set the scenes.

I think the critics are right on this one: This wants to be a Quentin Tarantino joint, but sunk in L.A.’s Silver Lake Reservoir. If Tommy Wiseau made a prison flick, you know it wouldn’t be inside the walls of Shawshank, right? So who liked it? Well, when ne’er-do-well security guard Jimmy Hughes of CBS-TV’s Yes, Dear met Bret Michaels (“Greg’s Big Day”), he named dropped A Letter from Death Row as one of his favorite films.

So, yeah, this one is for Poison and ’80s hair metal fans, only. Prison flick aficionados will give A Letter from Death Row a hard pass. But, in scanning the “Best of” and “Worst of” prison flicks lists of the digital divide, A Letter from Death Row shows up on neither. So that’s saying something.

After that, Bret’s never written, directed, or acted in another film. He has, however, carved out a nice career as a go-to reality television cast member, most recently appearing as a contestant on a 2020 installment of The Masked Singer and as a judge on Nashville Star (2003). And those ASCAP royalty checks keep rolling in, with Poison tunes appearing in all manner of TV series and films (60 credits and counting), so even thought Bret’s out of the movie business, he’s still having one hell of a good time. And good enough of a time, that he’s able to make sport of himself, as, well, himself, with appearances in Sharknado 5: Global Warming (2017). He still occasionally appears (as characters, not himself) in front of the camera in TV dramas, such as CBS-TV’s Burke’s Law (1994) and Martial Law (1999). And he’s actually pretty good at it (or gotten better at it, depending on your Road Housin’ opinions), and I’d like to see him guesting on more network and cable series.

You can find online streams of both films in the online marketplace on a variety of pay platforms, but not free-with-ads streams or freebie uploads, sorry. The subsequent DVDs of A Letter from Death Row also features the 60-minute documentary High Tension, Low Budget (The Making of A Letter from Death Row). You can also listen to the full solo album/film soundtrack to A Letter from Death Row (featuring members of Poison) on You Tube. You can also stream episodes of Bret Michaels’s reality series Rock of Love and its sequel, Life as We Know It, on Tubi.

From concert files: Okay. So Poison’s debut album wasn’t out and they weren’t even on the radio, yet. And here they are, opening for Alice Cooper (no, not KISS, Mike, that was Krokus, damn it). And posters, based on the album cover, below, are plastered all over the venue. So, yeah . . . we thought they were (hot) chicks (Mike, dude, did we? Yikes!) and that Poison was a band, like, you know, Vixen. And their opening tune, the title cut of the album, was pretty decent (heavy live, but poppy-overproduced on record). So, we were going to buy the album the next day . . . and discovered how wrong we were!

So that’s my Poison story.

And Poison are back on the road — with all of its original members! — as the opening act for Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard with Joan Jett for the long, COVID-delayed The Stadium Tour, currently rolling in 2021. You can learn more at the official Poison site.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Possums (1998)

Okay, so this radio station flick doesn’t deal in rock ‘n’ roll, but in sports.

But we can cheat this flick into our latest “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” of reviews courtesy of its star: Texas-born country singer, songwriter, and actor Mac Davis. Best known for his huge, ’70s AM radio solo hits “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” “One Hell of a Woman,” and “Burnin’ Thing,” he made his mark in the business by writing Elvis Presley’s late ’60s hits “In the Ghetto” and “A Little Less Conversation.”

As an actor, Davis made his feature film debut — after hosting his own NBC-TV music-comedy variety show The Mac Davis Show from 1974 to 1976 — with one of the better dramas about the dark side of football, North Dallas Forty (1979), holding his own alongside Nick Nolte.

For his ninth film, five of which were TV movies across the “Big Three” networks, Davis followed his work in the unfortunate box office bomb The Sting II (1983) — which, in conjunction with the failure of his second starring role as a divorced private detective in Cheaper To Keep Her (1981), ended his theatrical career — with the modestly budgeted ($1.4 million) sports comedy, Possums.

Sadly, while this lone writing/directing debut by producer and production coordinator J. Max Burnett (family-oriented series for Nickelodeon and The WB) was hailed as a “sports classic” in the tradition of the (superior) sports dramas Rudy and Hoosiers, and well received at the 1998 Seattle and Heartland International Film Festivals, Possums failed to find widespread theatrical distribution outside of the big “football states” of Oklahoma and Texas — where the “Friday Night Lights” rule.

So, Possums was unceremoniously dumped into the home video marketplace and easily found at your local Blockbuster Video.

Will Clark (Davis), an ex-semi-pro player, runs a small town hardware store in Nowata, Oklahoma (a real town, northeast of Tusla, where the film was shot on location), and sidelines at the town’s radio station as “the voice of the Nowata High Possums” — a team that hasn’t won a game in 25 years and hasn’t scored a touchdown in 13 years. And with the giant, Walmart-like retailer Maxi Mart wanting to move into Nowata, which will provide a much-needed boost to the dying, local economy, town mayor Charlie Lawton (B&S favorite Andrew Prine!!) decides to cancel the school’s football program to make way for progress — with Maxi Mart using the football field for their location.

Then, as the next autumn arrives, and the heavy equipment — instead of the local football team — readies to roll onto the field, Will jumps into action.

Distraught at seeing his small town life disappearing, as well as loosing his hardware store and his radio gig, he — to the dismay of his wife (Cynthia Skies; a regular on NBC-TV’s St. Elsewhere and CBS-TV’s JAG; later a producer on Bladerunner 2049) dipping into the family’s dwindling finances — buys airtime on the radio station and begins commentating imaginary football games — games in which the Possums embark on a miracle winning streak and head to the state finals to take on the longstanding champion rivals of Pratville High School.

Then the real Pratville team (led by real life Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, holding his thespian own) lays down a challenge to play a real game. Now, with the town’s new sense of hope and support, Will brings the Possums back onto the field. Can Will and his son (Jay Underwood, the original The Human Torch in Roger Corman’s 1994 The Fantastic Four) train the rag-tag Possums to believe in themselves and repeat the success of Will’s faux-radio broadcasts?

There’s more films set inside radio stations to be enjoyed with our “Exploring: Radio Stations on Film” featurette.

Is it all an implausible cliche? Is it all just another rag-tag misfits on an underdog adventure flick that we’ve seen before, back to Disney’s Might Ducks hockey franchise and into the later, Keanu Reeves one-two sports punch with The Replacements (2000; itself about football) and Hardball (2001; an inner-city Little League team)?

Sure it is.

Look, Possums is not the greatest sports drama ever made — and certainly doesn’t hold up to its promotional copy claims evoking Rudy and Hoosiers — but it’s not the worst, either. The small town characters (one of which is played by the great Dennis Burkley of Mask fame) are fun, and there’s no foul language or violence.

The joy of watching Possums is that isn’t about radio broadcasting — or football, for that matter. It’s a film about one’s love of their home town, the unity of community, and believing in the impossible. And in days like these, surrounded by the hashtagging warriors of the Internet divide, we need to believe in the impossible. And in ourselves. And that’s Possums.

Possums was available as a VOD on the Amazon and Vudu platforms, and as a free with-ads-stream on Tubi, but as result of recent licensing issues, it’s not currently available for online streaming. But the VHS and DVDs abound in the online marketplace and you can keep on eye out for it on the digital platform of the current rights holders at Multicom.tv.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm (1998)

Remember how Radu fell off a castle, landed in a tree and burned up? Well, he was able to make it out alive just as everyone else from the last movie died in a car crash except for, of course, Michelle, who is saved by Ana, who takes her to the mysterious Dr. Nicolescu, who realizes that she’s a vampire.

While Dr. Nicolescu promises to cure her of her vampirism, the truth is that he’s also one of the undead and uses science to make himself immune to all of the negative parts of being a vampire. Now, he wants the Bloodstone.

Radu has traveled to Bucharest to claim the financial wealth one of his previous henchman Ash, who we met in Vampire Journals. Meanwhile, Ash’s own underling Serena wants the two vampires to kill one another. Yet when Radu comes for Michele and is attacked by the evil doctor, she’s the one who saves him.

Of course, the end of this all has Radu, Ana, Ash and Serena engaging in so much drama over who controls the Bloodstone and our favirite vampire dead again, his head chopped off and burning in the sun.

For more than twenty years, that’s all we saw of Radu. But now, thanks to Full Moon’s Deadly Ten project, Blood Rise will tell the story of five hundred years in the life of Radu. This prequel will show “Radu’s descent from a noble warrior for the Church to a depraved creature of the night. Stolen by crusaders on the night of his birth, he has no knowledge of his bloodline: his mother a demon; father a vampire.” Anders Hove and Denice Duff will come back and so will I, because as we all know, once I watch every film in a series, I have to watch everything that comes out after like some kind of obligation.

If you watch the Full Moon remix movie I, Vampire, you can see this movie in short form as “Spawn of Hell.” You also get to see all the flashbacks from the other films.

You can watch Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm on Tubi.

Talisman (1998)

David DeCoteau has a goal of making the “male version of Suspiria” which means that we get a movie where the dialogue says things like “Boys’ tears are the most delicious of all,” and the music from Dark Angel: The Ascent gets reused and so does the exteriors from Subspecies, plus this was shot at the same time as Frankenstein Reborn*. Also, DeCoteau dislocated his elbow halfway through the shoot and toughed out the filming on painkillers, which I would argue made this a better film.

I would assume that by Suspiria the director meant that this had to be set in a foreign school and not anything to do with the color palette, as this looks quite dark and drab. It’s closer to Reform School Girls except it is not self-aware and it’s really all about seeing shirtless boys get murdered on a Satanic altar. And it’s also about dudes in their underwear betting one another about how many push-ups they can do.

There’s also a dude named Theriel the Black Angel who is bald and has glowing red eyes and seems like he’d be a good hang, but is really here to bring about the end of the world so he just roams the halls and rips out human hearts. There is actually a talisman, so the title makes sense. He was brought back to life by said talisman, along with the blood of a baby virgin. Now he gets to set people on fire, which is a way better life than I figure he had the first try.

Also, the Black Ranger is in this. And the only straight relationship in the whole movie ends up being incestual. It also make 78 minutes feel like 78 years and I’m not even going to bring up that the credits take double digit minutes to play.

This was renamed “Evil Never Dies” and cut down to thirty minutes for Full Moon’s Tomb of Terror remix release. Full Moon does so love recycling things. To prove my point even further, they’ve re-released this under a new Fulci sounding title, 7th Gate of Death. Don’t be fooled. It’s the same movie.

*I am not talking down on re-use. Roger Corman made a career out of it. He also made some better movies than the output of Full Moon, but why argue?

You can watch this on Tubi.

Troublesome Night 3 (1998)

I have OCD really bad, I think. I mean, why else would you write about forty horror anthology films in one week? Here’s where it really kicks in: there are twenty Troublesome Night movies and I will never rest until I see every one of them. I will be a ghost, like in these films, forever blundering around the world until I see the final films in the series. And then, they will reboot it.

In the third Troublesome Night, a mortuary connects the stories. In the first, a mortician (Allen Ting, who was in the first two movies in this series) is ruined by the death of his favorite singer, so he takes her place in the coffin when her face is too damaged to allow for an open casket. Then he disappears because Hong Kong horror is weird.

The second tale revolves around a mother (Law Lan, who started acting in 1939 and is still performing) who has killed herself and the mortuary workers who keep getting more money out of her daughter (Christine Ng, Crime Story) for her funeral. Of course, they must pay the price.

Finally, the last story gets as dark as I’ve seen this series go, as a mortician commits suicide when her boyfriend leaves her because her job upsets him. Her ghost haunts him right into death.

Now my ectoplasmic form must depart to seek out Troublesome Night 4.

Halloweentown (1998)

Marnie Piper can’t understand why her mother Gwen won’t allow her and her siblings Dylan and Sophie to celebrate Halloween. It turns out that both Gwen and her mother Aggie are witches, despite the fact that Gwen yearns to live the life of a mortal. Now, Aggie is intent on training Marnie as a witch and informs her of where she lives, Halloweentown.

Halloweentown is a place where witches, warlocks, vampires, trolls, ogres, zombies, werewolves, mummies, ghosts, pumpkin heads, skeletons, goblins and humanoids with varying numbers of body parts have decided to escape from the fear of humans and create their own alternate universe.

Aggie wants to teach Marnie how to become a witch before she turns 13 and can’t use her powers. She’s also worried that people in Halloweentown have been disappearing. As she goes home on a magic bus, Marnie and Dylan sneak on board.

That’s when they run afoul of Kalabar, a man that used to date Gwen and is still jealous that she chose to marry a human. Luckily, the family comes together and it’s decided that Aggie will spend more time in our world and Marnie will train to be a witch, which is good news, because Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge would follow four years later. It was directed by Mary Lambert — yes, the same person who made Pet Sematary.

Director Duwayne Dunham was an editor at Lucasfilm and directed three episodes of Twin Peaks before making Halloweentown. A name you may recognize in the credits belongs to Alfred Sole, the production designer, who is better known for directing Alice, Sweet Alice.

 

Beast Cops (1998)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a ghostwriter of personal memoirs for Story Terrace London and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

Movies like this are the reason I love cinema. Beast Cops is funny, touching, well-acted and perfectly directed.

HK cops Tung (played by Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) and Sam (Sam Lee) are slackers. They are in deep with the triads which basically means they can do whatever they want. The two of them hang out at the clubs and don’t do any real police work at all. Tung has a gambling problem and always seems to be short on cash. Ultra-skinny Sam enjoys womanizing and playing video games while on duty. Life goes on for these two pretty much as it always had until they get a new boss named Mike played by Michael Wong. Mike is part Chinese but was raised in the west and therefore a bit of a greenhorn in the ways of Hong Kong street life. He is also very serious about his job. In the beginning, this causes conflict between Sam, Tung, and Mike but then Tung rents his room out to Mike leading to a cross-pollination of their worlds. The majority of the film chronicles their day to day lives and the progression of the relationship of the three roommates.  Mike gradually gets used to Sam and Tung’s messy ways. He gets caught up with their lifestyle, even going so far as to drop E with them in a nightclub. When Mike meets Madame Yoyo (Kathy Chow), the two fall in love. Unfortunately, she’s the girlfriend of Triad Fai (Roy Cheung) who has fled the country for legal reasons early on. Conversely, Tung and Sam are influenced by Mike’s dedication and become (slightly) better cops.

When Fai returns to Hong Kong, he finds that one of his minions – the aptly named Pushy Pin – has taken over his turf while he was in hiding. When Cheung goes to confront him, the newly ascended Pushy Pin kills him with a really big, scary knife. The fight scenes in Beast Cops are few and far between. The script eschews action for character and relationship development. Fai was very good friends with Tung, who is now obliged to take revenge for him by going after Pushy Pin. To prepare, Tung downs a six-pack of Foster’s Lager and a fistful of pills before embarking on his mission. It is in one of the best “ballistic” performances I’ve ever seen. Of course, Mike and Sam show up to get in on the fun, too. The ending wraps things up so perfectly that it would be a spoiler crime to give it away. Anthony Wong covers a lot of emotional territory in his performance here. His character arc goes from mischievous freeloader to dejected lover to wounded animal all in the span on 90 minutes. He hits every note perfectly. It’s like watching a human symphony playing on screen. Justifiably, Wong won the Best Actor Award in for his performance at that year’s Hong Kong Film Awards.

If my plot synopsis leaves you feeling like this is just another cop film, it’s not. What makes this film so special is all the little moments the characters are given. There are a lot of scenes where the principles just stand around on a street corner talking. They are never boring. Each scene moves the story along and gives the viewer more insight to the lives of these officers. It’s not an action film, so much as a character study with an incredibly violent ending. The first time I saw this movie, I watched again within two days and loved it even more the second time. It is exceptionally rare for an HK cop movie to be this well-written. Every actor is perfectly cast in his or her part. Along with Wong’s award, Beast Cops also won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (for Pushy Pin), Best Screenplay, and Best Director (for Gordon Chan and Dante Lam.) It deserved all of them ten times over. Absolute kudos to everyone involved with this wonderful movie!

Lee Majors Week: Musketeers Forever (1998)

An English-French-Russian co-production action flick shot in Montreal, Canada, but set in Las Vegas? And starring Lee Majors and Micheal Dudikoff? And pinching from the Alexandre Dumas classic? Did Cannon Pictures make this?

Nope.

A company known as Betar Entertainment made it. But don’t worry, they made 1988’s The Ultimate Weapon with Hulk Hogan, so it’s all good.

Well, not really. We are in the direct-to-video low-budget lands where there’d be no original bones buried in this Las Vegas desert of the Great White Sands. Yep, Hoss! We be got ‘er selves a Road House rip-off where Dumas is rolling over in his grave.

Ben O’Connor (Lee Majors) is a retired ex-CIA and Special Forces bad-ass who comes into a little cash via a high-stakes poker game. So he decides it’s time to retire and open up his dream jazz club in Las Vegas, with two of his ex-army buddies as his partners. And since that fourth Musketeer from the good ‘ol army days died during a mission (protecting the Russian president), they’ll employ his son (Michael Dudikoff) as their chief bartender. Romance, but of course, ensues between Dudikoff’s D’Artagnan (seriously, that’s his character’s first name) and Malila (Sabrine Karsenti, who you may remember from Battlefield Earth and The Crow TV series), the local Indian Reservation damsel-in-distress.

And the action ensues when Brad Wesley Kenton Crawford (if you’re a Dolph Lundgren completist, you know actor Martin Neufeld from his work in The Peacekeeper) and his sidekick Irina (Sylvie Varakine, who reminds of Brigitte Nielsen; know your Rocky IV references), a pair of bad-ass Russian gangsters who “own the town” of Indian Creek (no joke) and the cops (see?), decides to plow down the reservation to build a casino — and level the newly-minted club in the process — it’s time for lots of barroom brawling. Hell, yeah. It’s not a time to “be nice” anymore, baby! Hey, at least, unlike Road House, we have a timely message about the death of progress and how the white man screws the Indians.

Granted, Majors, as well as Dudikoff, are clearly past their action-primes in this rare, hard-to-find rip on Dudikoff’s Cannon halcyon days of action yore, but the duo carry the film’s French-Canadian unknown-to-U.S. cast with class. Chalk it up to my enjoyment off all things Dudikoff and my Majors nostalgia, but I liked this one in all of its low-budgeted action glory. But man, we sure do wish Sam Elliot would roll up just to deliver that line . . . and ride off into the sunset, because there’s no way to twist the name “The Musketeer Club” into a joke about a feminine hygiene product. (Douchesketeer? No, that’s not working for me, either. That’s something a dicky, frat-preppy college jock would say as he pants a nerd. Wade Garrette would never say that.)

Musketeers Forever is scattered around the globe in a hard-to-find VHS tape and bogus grey-ripped DVD issued in multiple-region formats (dubbed in French — with and without subtitles), so know your zones. But guess what? Tubi TV comes through with a pretty clean English-language, free-with-ads upload to enjoy. So get your Dudikoff on this weekend and relive those good ol’ Cannon VHS days of yore.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Dark City (1998)

The Matrix may be the movie that most go to when they think of 90’s cyberpunk , but the truth is that Dark City came out a year before* and has many of the same storybeats. And Grant Morrison’s 1994 comic The Invisibles had plenty of the elements that The Matrix also mined, like the leap of faith from a building and a gang of anarchists being the actual heroes against a world of sameness.

It’s pretty amazing that this movie ever came out, as who would think that New Line Cinema would co-finance a movie that’s based on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave? You can see their studio notes all over this movie, like how the psychic scenes needed effects and the voiceover introduction that attempts to explain everything to the audience.

John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up not knowing who he is except that he’s in a hotel bathtub. A call from Dr. Daniel Schreber (Keifer Sutherland) tells him to run, as there are a murdered body and a bloody knife in the next room, as well as a group of men called The Strangers after him.

For some reason, no one realizes that the city is constantly covered in the dark of night. Murdoch discovers his name, that he has a wife named Emma (picture-perfect should-be giallo queen Jennifer Connelly) and that he also has powers that allow him to reshape reality.

There’s also William Hurt as a cop who believes that Murdoch is innocent of the murders and the fact that the Strangers are really aliens living inside the skins of dead humans and oh yeah — the city itself is floating in space inside a giant energy field.

Dark City is packed with so many ideas that you could really watch it over and over and still find new ideas that were unseen in past viewings.

Also, cheers to director and co-writer Alex Proyas for casting Richard O’Brien, bringing the Rocky Horror creator into yet another cultural obsession for me (along with RockyFlash GordonShock Treatment, Jubilee and Spice World).

Unlike the aforementioned Neo-starring film, Dark City went up against Titanic and faired about as well as you’d expect. Honestly, this is a movie that finds its audience and keeps it, reminding them that there is a secret world somewhere in which alien corpsewearers will learn that the human heart means more than the brain.

As for me, I love movies shot completely inside on soundstages with cars and buildings that seem to come from no set time period. Therefore, if you’re looking for a perfectly unexpected movie to pair this with, I’d suggest Streets of Fire.

*It was also shot on the same sets at Fox Studios in Sydney.

Skyggen, aka Webmaster (1998)

“We will soon fix the programming error in the super semantic subset of your linguistic structure.
— JB

Remember how, when Neil Marshall’s Doomsday came out 2008 and Luc Beeson’s Lockdown came out in 2012, we all groaned at the absurd Escape from New York/L.A. ripoffness of it all? Well, this Danish sci-thriller copies that absurdity-of-it-all rip with Bladerunner. Only this shot-on-a-low-budget-with-Digital Betacams thriller gives us — not a Ridley Scott rip — but an ersatz-sequel to the (dopey-to-crappy) Lawnmower Man franchise (when you see the graphics, you’ll see the analogy): a “Part III” that’s cyber-adrift between 1995’s William Gibson-based Johnny Mnemonic and the Wachowskis’ 1998 cyber-standard, The Matrix.

The 2000 U.S-English-market reissue.

And you know what?

Regardless of its student film ambition-over-budget production design, character-arcs and plotting that’s even more tech-ludicrous than the cyber non-realities of Disclosure, Hackers, and The Net (all reviewed this week, look for them) writer and director Thomas Borch Nielsens produced a debut feature film with a heartfelt, Tommy Wiseau-commitment to the film (and I dig Nielsens’s convincing tech jargon). Courtesy of rescuing a copy of the dubbed-and-retitled U.S.-version of Skyggen (Danish for “Shadow”) from a Blockbuster cut-out barrel for $2.00 bucks — and having the ability to revisit it a few times over the years — Webmaster grew on me in an enjoyable, Circuitry Man kind-of-way. It’s a film where your individual “love to plug” into it may vary; however, it’s a hell of a lot better than the assembly-line glut of Asylum when-hybrid-animals-and-environments-attack romps backing up the direct-to-streaming rivers. The film’s only negative: its arthouse-vibe would have been better served in an English-subtitled form, as the dubbing is a poorly-done distraction.

As with Bladerunner, the world of Skyggen is a dark, atmospheric world where computers are available at every corner and everyone is a VR-addict clad in black leather and vinyl because, well, in the “ancient future,” all clothing stores only sell S&M gear (and you have your comparisons to The Matrix), everyone is mainlining something into their veins, ’90-era tech music perpetually throbs, and you have two hair-color choices: blonde or one of the rainbow’s seven spectrums.

The 1998 Danish-Euro version. No, that’s not Juliette Lewis in the upper left corner.

JB is a reformed hacker — who wears VR goggles and hangs upside down as he hacks and codes — hired as the webmaster of cyber-domain (foreshadowing Bitcoin) that specializes in the illegal transfers of digital currency (and the only way for users to log on is with a VR-headset, natch). When a cyber-intruder hacks the domain and steals the site’s funds, Stoiss, the site’s web-mogul founder, pulls a “Bob Hauk”: but instead of injecting JB with a set of carotid-artery severing micro-explosives, he installs a heart-explosive that runs out in 35 hours (and you have your comparisons to Escape from New York, but due to budget, more 2019: After the Fall of New York; a film which we love, so all is well). At that point, JB is off the net and thrust into the underbelly of a tech-noir detective thriller — with a hacker instead of a detective — navigating the usual double crosses and murders rife with bounty hunters, femme fatales, and cyberpunk gangs.

There’s no deying Jean-Luc Godard’s neo-noir Alphaville, Elio Petri’s pop-art romp The 10th Victim (1965), and Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1967) are the prefect combinations of film noir and dystopian fiction. The same holds true for the later tech-noirs spun in the frames of Wolf Gremm’s Kamikaze ’89 and Claude Chabrol’s Docteur M. While Webmaster may not be up to the cinematic level of those regarded films, Thomas Borch Nielsens has, none the less, dreamed up a very creative and enjoyable, low-budget gem that’s worthy of you seeking out a copy of the VHS or DVD in the online marketplace.

Sadly, there’s no online streams to share. The best we have to expose you to the film is a trailer and the film’s opening title sequence that sets up the cyber-verse.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.