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An Exercise in Poor Taste

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Guest TSMAdmin

This is another "lost" column of mine. This was intended to be my first column to actually appear on the site, but as you faithful readers know (and you heathen readers are about to find out), the lovely Confessions of a Psycho Cat disc was my official debut instead. This column has my original mini-bio/introduction, and while now it seems a little dorky, think of the historical value!


Hello, and welcome to TheSmartMarks' DVD section! I'm your host, Edward Robins (evenflowDDT on the message board). Join me as I lead you deep within the darkest corners of the video shelf, bringing you honest reviews of DVDs that are potentially fatal if viewed by untrained film-goers. Looking for a review of the latest Full Moon Pictures opus that doesn’t include the phrase "sucks like every other Full Moon release" in the opening paragraph? Looking for someone who shares your interest in films with such inspired taglines as "Can a Grown Woman Truly Love a Midget?" or "It Has Nine Lives... You Only Have One!" (granted, neither of those films are currently available on DVD, but there’s always hope), or produced by cinematic geniuses such as Roger Corman or Ed Wood? Look no further, fans of films with dubious merit, for you have found your kindred twisted soul with the evenflowDDT, who can find at least one redeeming aspect in any film.


...and for the mainstream fans, I’ll also review "regular" films (the kind with budgets). To put it simply, I just love movies/DVDs, and, although I prefer low budget/b-grade pictures, I’ll watch and write about anything and am very glad to have this opportunity with TheSmartMarks. So without further ado:


"Ultimate Fights from the Movies" (2002)



Film (complete with... wait, it’s a compilation, there are no minor plot spoilers!):

Last Halloween, FlixMix released "Boogeymen", a direct-to-video compilation featuring scenes from many of the most famous horror movie villains. Theoretically, it was a great idea, as it would attract both casual fans and more hardcore horror fans that were too lazy to get up and change discs all the time. Unfortunately, like all good ideas in theory (communism, I’m looking at you), it was, while not truly a failure, disappointing in the least. The three hours of content promised on the package and in the ads turned out to be just a 58-minute clip compilation, with commentary from Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) and some trailers.


The second FlixMix compilation, "Ultimate Fights", is much more well-rounded and enjoyable than "Boogeymen". The 16 clips that make up the DVD are from (in order): Rumble in the Bronx, Blade, Fist of Legend, Snatch, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Scarface, Legend of Drunken Master, Crossing the Line, The Players Club, Gladiator, Timecop, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, They Live, Black Mask, First Blood, and The Killer. Most of the world renowned movie fighters (with the glaring exception of the real Bruce Lee) are represented on this compilation – Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, Jet Li, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Wesley Snipes. Besides equal fighter representation, there is also equal style representation, as clips include different styles of martial arts, bare-knuckle fighting, street-fighting/wrestling, and gun/weapon fights.


The main reason a collection of movie fight scenes works better than a collection of supernatural movie villain scenes is that fight scenes work better out of context. Although the "legends of the boogeymen" feature on the "Boogeymen" disc explained the plots, motivations, and folklores of the more famous characters, many of the scenes (particularly the few where there are no killings involved) simply weren’t as impressive or enjoyable without the rest of the movie to build them up. This is not a problem with fight scenes, which can stand aside from their plots (even though the majority of these films, unlike many b-grade action flicks, actually have fairly strong stories) simply because the spectacle of violence itself is entertaining. It’s also much easier to pick out a well-known and agreed-upon "classic" fight scene than a "classic" horror villain; even though there are a couple films included that were totally new to me, I had at least heard of, if not seen, all of these films and clips before. This insures that both white-belts and black-belts of action movies (forgive the less than clever reference) can enjoy this compilation


Redeeming Aspects:

As if some seriously slick, cool fight scenes aren’t enough... there’s the laughable CGI effects in the Blade climax, Roddy Piper (it's a scientific fact that Roddy Piper's appearance is an instant redeeming aspect in any film), Jason Scott Lee doing justice to the late, great Bruce Lee (I never saw Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, but Jason does an impressive job mimicking Bruce’s expressions and mannerisms in this clip), Russell Crowe killing a tiger, and The Killer (one of my all-time favorite movies).



Although the back of the box proclaims "various aspect ratios", there is only one clip that isn’t presented full-frame (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). As with the "Boogeymen" compilation, the quality of the clip varies according to age and source. Although all the clips are available in better quality on their respective discs, the only films that are noticeably not a great transfer (and thus slightly distracting) are The Killer, First Blood, and Scarface, and this is probably due to the source (I doubt that a company would license first-generation or newly-remastered source material for such a "small-time" compilation company, and this really hurts the older films). Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and English Dolby Surround, and sub-titles are available in English, Spanish, and French (in all honesty though, do you really need sub-titles for fights?!).


Special Features:

Unlike "Boogeymen", FlixMix’s Schiavonean claim of "OVER 5 HOURS OF ACTION-PACKED SPECIAL FEATURES!" appears to be true. There are two commentary tracks, one by Hong Kong producer/director Tsui Hark and another by "Fight Master" James Lew. Tsui Hark is able to provide some background on the Hong Kong actors and movies, but is totally lost (and obviously reading from a script) on the American films (in They Live, he mispronounces Piper’s first name as "Rudy"). Lew’s commentary is much more interesting and insightful; as someone who has taken part of 200 fight scenes, he is able to point out the specifics, however subtle, of how an actor sells a particular blow (e.g. Brad Pitt in Snatch) or why a scene works (e.g. the girl fight from The Players Club is taken seriously because instead of "cat fight" offense like scratches, slaps, and hair drags, they throw "real" fighting moves like punches and stomps). Unfortunately, Lew’s commentary is only accessible on a scene-by-scene basis from the "Fight Card" chapter selection option, as opposed to Hark’s, which can be turned on throughout the whole film like a regular commentary track. There is also the curious addition of an "Ultimate Rumble Techno Mix", an alternate score to the scenes, as filler. The FlixFacts (small trivia notes that appear at the bottom of the screen about a film or actor) are also present, but don’t present as many interesting facts as the FlixFacts on the "Boogeymen" disc. Two of the FlixFacts I found particularly funny were that "Jason Scott Lee, who was then cast to play Bruce Lee [in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story], is no relation" (no, really? I guess this is news to those watching in Idaho who don’t realize that Lee is a common Chinese surname) and "Known as 'Rowdy Roddy Piper', [Piper] retired after 'Wrestlemania 3' in 1987" (we could have only hoped).


Besides the commentaries, there are trailers for Scarface, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Legend of Drunken Master (the 2000 American release), They Live, Crossing the Line, Black Mask, Gladiator, First Blood, Timecop, and The Killer. Whereas the clips from the older films were not so great, the trailers for them are just terrible, with many film specks (these I don't mind, as they add authenticity, but everyone else seems to hate them) and a muddy sound mix. A "My Top 5" feature that enables "programming" of a five-fight playlist is pretty neat, but is rendered useless through the DVD-ROM featuring an all-fight programmable playlist. Another, much cooler and more unique feature is the ten-minute featurette, "Behind the Punches: How to Stage your Own Movie Fight", with James Lew and short clips from Jean-Claude Van Damme. It covers the absolute basics of a few aspects of a movie fight, and unlike those WWE Public Service clips, Lew encourages you to try it at home (after all, he’s not the one who will get sued when you mess up a stunt). For those too cheap to buy the DVD, his most practical piece of advice is the simple equation of fight climax + boxes = cool (and a safer shot too!). Finally, there’s the FlixMix fluff that is "Name That Frame Game", fighter profiles, "fight cards" chapter selection (which provides hit-percentages for each fight, but is really useful because it’s the only way to access Lew’s commentary), and goofy DVD-ROM sounds and trivia game.


In the easter eggs department, there are two clips from Something Weird Video (a trailer from the 1960 Roger Corman film Atlas and some 1950’s women’s wrestling) that are alluded to in the credits. At the time I wrote the column, the disc was only a day or two old, so no Easter Egg sites had information for the title. I tried to hax0r the DVD and make a DiVX of these hidden features, but failed miserably. I then remembered that patience is a virtue and, being a virtuous soul, checked back within a few days to find that information had been posted on eeggs.com. Though the Atlas trailer is promising, it's cut off (unless that abrupt stop was featured in the original trailer to showcase Atlas' trailer-shortening power!). The more interesting of the two hidden clips is the women's wrestling, if for no other reason because it's an American women's wrestling match without an obnoxious Jerry Lawler yelling "Puppies!" every two seconds.



"Ultimate Fights" is a very solid compilation that takes itself much more seriously in special features and clips than "Boogeymen". In comparison, "Boogeymen" is probably sloppier because it was the first FlixMix compilation and there was the added rush of getting it out by Halloween for the cheap seasonal heat. "Ultimate Fights" seemed to have been compiled more carefully and lovingly (except for the trailers, which look tacked on at the last minute). Whoever decided to tap James Lew should be applauded, because he makes the best two special features (his commentary and featurette) informative and entertaining. Also, I’ll admit I’m less biased towards this release as I am towards the "Boogeymen" release because I’ve seen less fight movies than horror movies, and am less jaded towards what makes a good movie fight. Up next for FlixMix is "Loads O’ Comedy", which I’ll imagine is going to be difficult to please because of the subjective nature of comedy, and how humor varies among different people. So, "Ultimate Fights" is a great compilation, and will probably be the best FlixMix release for a while.


Being that I’m a narcissistic person (at least when it concerns my writing), be sure to write me and tell me how you much you loved my column (or how much you hated it, my inbox is lonely). I’d post my Amazon.com wish list, but I’ll wait a couple columns so I don’t come off as too desperately materialistic.


Until next time...

Edward Robins

[email protected]

"To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about... [just] remember that there is such a thing as good bad taste and bad bad taste." - John Waters

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