"We're still at war, Plissken. We need him alive."

"I don't give a fuck about your war... or your president."

Rambo: First Blood Part II

May 22, 1985
(yes, 35 years ago today!)

RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II was a phenomenon. And an unlikely one. It’s right there in the title: FIRST BLOOD PART II? How the hell do you do a FIRST BLOOD PART II?

Sure, the makers of FIRST BLOOD famously went with the ending where Rambo didn’t die, as he did in David Morrell’s book. But the character doesn’t exactly lend himself to a rousing second adventure. He wasn’t your typical action movie protagonist, a hero who comes along and saves the day. He was a drifter who was mistreated and fought back hard. Went on a rampage. Single-handedly waged a war against law enforcement (one guy died falling off a helicopter), wrecked a whole town, finally broke down about his experiences in the war and then turned himself in. A great movie because of its simple, character-driven story mechanisms, emotional center and excellent, largely internal and physical (and finally blubbering) performance by Sylvester Stallone.

So what’s Rambo gonna do, get out of prison, try to go straight, and get hassled by some other sheriff? Nope. They figured we got a perfect killing machine, let’s plug it in. Let him out for a dangerous mission, a one-man DIRTY DOZEN.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Rappin’

May 10, 1985

As I might’ve told you before, I’ve got a soft spot for the hip hop movies of the ‘80s. None are exactly great films, and most are made by people who could’ve just as easily been doing one about BMX or video game competitions or something. WILD STYLE is one of the few that could be argued to genuinely come out of the hip hop culture, and I never saw that until I was older. But BREAKIN’, BREAKIN’ 2 and the more legit BEAT STREET (all released in 1984) were formative for me, softening me up for Raising Hell and Licensed to Ill to come along and change my life.

For me, enough time has passed to forgive any lacking in authenticity and enjoy these movies as time capsules of a time when exploitation filmmakers valiantly tried to straddle the zeitgeist, grab the horns of a movement they didn’t understand, and somehow wrestle it to the ground.

I must’ve known the word “rap” in ’85 – as in “a rap,” because everyone knew about “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” and I was obsessed with the Grandmaster Melle Mel song “Vice” from the Miami Vice soundtrack. But I also called it “breakdancing music.” I was learning. It might be for the best that I didn’t learn from RAPPIN’, a movie I didn’t know about back then even though it was from the same studio and director as BREAKIN’, and supposedly released as BREAKDANCE 3: ELECTRIC BOOGALEE somewhere, though I haven’t been able to find any advertising art to support that claim. (read the rest of this shit…)

Code of Silence

May 3, 1985

Just like with GYMKATA, I’ve reviewed CODE OF SILENCE before, and I had some good jokes in there. I also wrote about it a little in Seagalogy, as a comparison to ABOVE THE LAW. But it’s one of the movies that was playing when the summer of ’85 began, and representative of the type of action movies that were summer moviegoing events in those days. So I thought it was important to revisit. And just do a quick 3,000 word deep dive.

CODE OF SILENCE stars Chuck Norris as respected Chicago P.D. sergeant Eddie Cusack, part of a team trying to take down coke gang brothers the Comachos. He’s spent a month planning a sting operation that goes horribly wrong in two ways. First, a rival gang coincidentally goes in right before them and machine guns all the Comachos, kicking off a brutal gang war. Second, one of the guys on his team shoots and kills a young civilian in the apartment building hallway. As a cop with a moral code, a strong work ethic and good karate kicks, Cusack will spend the movie trying to deal with the repercussions of both of these things. Also there’s a robot.

Let’s set the scene a little. Norris was already well established as a movie star, having released one movie a year since ’77 (and two in ’82). His first independent starring vehicles BREAKER! BREAKER!, GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK and A FORCE OF ONE were all successful, leading to studio releases THE OCTAGON, AN EYE FOR AN EYE, SILENT RAGE, FORCED VENGEANCE and LONE WOLF McQUADE. MISSING IN ACTION, his first film on a new multi-picture deal with Cannon, had been a big hit. (read the rest of this shit…)

Gymkata

MAY 3, 1985

GYMKATA is another Summer of 1985 release with a Cold War context. On screen, it involves a mission with the ultimate goal of installing an American satellite monitoring station. Behind the scenes, it stars a gymnast who was favored to win gold at the Olympics in Moscow until the U.S. team boycotted.

I reviewed GYMKATA for The Ain’t It Cool News in 2007 when it first came out on DVD, so you can read that for more details. I have some pretty good lines in there, for example

“this movie and Osama bin Laden are both unintended consequences of [the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan]. And I can say objectively that the better of the two is GYMKATA. GYMKATA is better than Osama bin Laden.”

But it’s a pretty damn 1985 movie so I decided to revisit it for this series. It stars Kurt Thomas, five-time NCAA champion and International Gymnastics Hall of Famer who won six medals at the 1979 World Championship before the aforementioned protest of the 1980 Summer Games. He plays Jonathan Cabot, also a gymnast of some kind. We see him on the parallel bars, and then all the sudden some suit from the Special Intelligence Agency is briefing him for a top secret mission to the secluded country of Parmistan. His dad (Eric Lawson, who played a sheriff in TALL TALE, RUMPELSTILTSKIN, WHEN TIME EXPIRES and KING COBRA) was an agent who disappeared there competing in “The Game,” a thing they apparently do frequently where foreigners try to run an obstacle course while locals on horses with helmets over ninja masks shoot arrows at them. If somebody actually survived the country would offer them any favor they want. Help you move, give you notes on your screenplay, anything. (read the rest of this shit…)

Summer of 1985 intro + Gotcha!

Technically summer doesn’t start for more than a month. But it’s beginning to feel like summertime – a time to sit back and unwind. The sun has been coming out, people have been wearing shorts, barbecues are probly happening in states that will have new Covid-19 outbreaks in 2-3 weeks, and it could even be argued that the hardcore dance is getting a little bit out of control.

One major thing is missing: the summer movie season. We were expecting to have NO TIME TO DIE, A QUIET PLACE PART II, BLACK WIDOW, WONDER WOMAN 1984, CANDYMAN, TOP GUN: MAVERICK, the GHOSTBUSTERS thing, THE FRENCH DISPATCH, arguably MORBIUS. And F9 would’ve been coming out Friday! Can you believe that? TENET and MULAN are still planned for release in July, but I’m skeptical. It’s up in the air how many theaters will be reopened by then, or especially how many people will feel safe enough to go to them.

It’s not something I ever considered before. Watching a zombie movie or a Godzilla or something, I never thought, “Oh shit, there were probly huge blockbuster movies that had to be postponed because of that!” Come to think of it in OMEGA MAN he had to watch WOODSTOCK, which was about a year old. He didn’t get to see DIRTY HARRY, SHAFT, BILLY JACK or ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES. They probly never came out in that world.

This strange reality of The Year Without a Summer Movie Season has me even more anxious to throw myself into a retrospective series. I think I got as much or more out of my 1989 revisit last year and ’98 the year before that than I did watching new movies in theaters. A good retrospective series feels like a type of time travel to me. There’s definitely a nostalgia, a reconjuring of excitement I may have forgotten from however old I was at the time in question. But also I’m watching more movies than I probly did back then, all in order of when they came out, giving more thought to the context, being able to see that era with the hindsight of history and the perspective of an adult. It’s always fun to discover things I didn’t realize back then, or didn’t experience, or to respond to things differently. (read the rest of this shit…)

Shaolin and Wu Tang

SHAOLIN AND WU-TANG a.k.a. SHAOLIN VS. WU-TANG is the 1983 directorial debut of Gordon Liu, made right before THE 8-DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER. Liu also co-stars as the young representative of Shaolin in the titular rivalry. It’s an independent production (distributed by Hing Fat Film Co.) but feels very much like Liu’s Shaw Brothers movies, maybe partly because it’s produced and choreographed by 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN director Lau Kar-leung.

Jun-kit (Liu) and Fung-wu (Adam Cheng, ZU: WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, SEVEN WARRIORS) are the respective top students at Shaolin and Wu Tang schools in the same city. Although their masters (Han Chiang and Hoi-San Kwan) have a bit of a rivalry when they run into each other in town, their students laugh it off and hang out at the brothel together. But they make the mistake of sparring there, showing off their abilities in a friendly competition. Word gets to the local Qing Lord (Wang Lung Wei, MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, THE BOXER’S OMEN, THE SEVENTH CURSE), who says “If what you say is true, the Shaolin and the Wu Tang could be dangerous,” as famously sampled by Wu-Tang Clan on “Bring Da Ruckus.” So he decides he must learn both styles to protect himself. (read the rest of this shit…)

Hotel Artemis

Two years ago there were two intriguing looking movies about hotels from pretty good writer/directors named Drew. I didn’t get around to seeing either, and they seemed to have unusual premises that were hard to explain in the trailers, so I have always been confused about what they were about and which one was which. When I saw HOTEL ARTEMIS was on Amazon Prime and clicked on it I had my fingers crossed that it was the one with Dave Bautista. And it was.

It takes place over one Wednesday night in L.A., summer of 2028, in what I gotta say are bad times at the Hotel Artemis. There are huge riots in the streets, which a crew of robbers in very stylish skeleton masks are trying to use to cover their getaway, but they get spotted by cops. Sherman (Sterling K. Brown, THE RHYTHM SECTION), his younger brother Lev (Brian Tyree Henry, WIDOWS) and a guy named Buke (Kenneth Choi, TIMECOP 2: THE BERLIN DECISION, STREET KINGS, Judge Ito to Brown’s Christopher Darden in The People vs. O.J. Simpson) manage to get away, but with injuries, so there’s only one place they can go. (See the title of the movie for specifics.) (read the rest of this shit…)

High and Low

Before going into seclusion to plot my revenge on the coronavirus I rented a bunch of Akira Kurosawa movies. Didn’t even really know what they were about. Luckily one of them was HIGH AND LOW, because that’s what more than one of you recommended after I reviewed STRAY DOG. Another contemporary police procedural one. No samurais in it at all.

One thing I did not expect: themes of shoe industry integrity. It opens with our initial protagonist Mr. Gondo (Toshiro Mifune in a white cardigan) meeting at his house with his fellow board members for the National Shoe company. They’re each in charge of one specific part of the company (one guy conveniently lists them all off for us), and Gondo’s is the factory. All of them agree that “the old man,” (the president of the shoe company, not Dan Inosanto’s character from REDBELT) is out of touch with what modern women want. They call his pumps “combat boots.” But they’ve come up with a plan that by teaming together they represent a majority of shareholders and can replace the old man and begin making shoes that are more current and cheaper to manufacture. (read the rest of this shit…)

Drunken Master II

When we last saw Wong Fei-hung (Jackie Chan), he was a bratty kid always getting in trouble, getting disowned by his martial artist/physician father Master Wong, trained in drunken boxing by Beggar So, learning to fight really well if he has access to a gourd he can use to get blitzed out of his, you know, gourd.

Now its… I’m not sure how long later. But it’s the early twentieth century. There are cars and shit. Though he’s presumably an adult, he still lives with his parents – now played by Ti Lung (A BETTER TOMORROW) and Anita Mui (RUMBLE IN THE BRONX) – and fucks around and gets in trouble constantly.

When DRUNKEN MASTER came out in 1978, Jackie was just beginning to explore his comedic approach to kung fu movies, and it established him as a major movie star in China. Sixteen years later, when DRUNKEN MASTER II (a.k.a. THE LEGEND OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER) came out, Jackie and martial arts cinema were in an entirely different place. Jackie had moved over to Golden Harvest, directed ten movies, started the POLICE STORY and ARMOUR OF GOD series, even done a few American movies. And then he returned to the famous folk hero character in the only time he was ever directed by the great Lau Kar-leung (EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN, THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, HEROES OF THE EAST, DIRTY HO, THE 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER, TIGER ON BEAT). But they fought about the shooting and fighting styles and Jackie took over to direct the final fight that the movie’s best known for. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sister Street Fighter

I’ve reviewed and enjoyed Sonny Chiba’s three STREET FIGHTER movies (THE STREET FIGHTER, RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER and THE STREET FIGHTER’S LAST REVENGE), so now it’s time to get started on the SISTER STREET FIGHTER quadrilogy. It was marketed (at least in the U.S.) as a spin-off of the other series, but star Etsuko “Sue” Shihomi is not playing her character from THE STREET FIGHTER, or her other character from THE STREETFIGHTER’S LAST REVENGE, and Chiba is in it not playing “Terry” Tsuguri. There’s no narrative connection, but it is in a similar vein of funky contemporary karate blast full of fun comic book gimmicks, cool ‘70s fashion and exaggerated violence.

Shihomi (GOLGO 13: ASSIGNMENT KOWLOON) plays Koryu, a Hong Kong martial artist who gets sent to Yokohama to search for her brother Mansei (Hiroshi Miyauchi, Kamen Rider, Go Ranger, Spider Man, REBORN FROM HELL II: JUBEI’S REVENGE), a narcotics agent who disappeared while undercover in a heroin smuggling ring. Kuryo has other family there. She beats up some assholes in front of her restaraunteur uncle (Hiroshi Kondo, GRAVEYARD OF HONOR, WOLF GUY), who is delighted that she’s “still a tomboy,” and cousins (Tatsuya Nanjo [TOKYO DEEP THROAT] and Nami Tachibana), who ask her for lessons and tell her she’s famous in Japan as the Hong Kong Martial Arts Champ. (Nobody else seems to recognize her.) (read the rest of this shit…)