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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Soul Brothers of Kung Fu

Thursday, June 4th, 2020

We’ll get back to Summer of 1985 soon, but it’s time for a kung fu break. SOUL BROTHERS OF KUNG FU is a 1977 movie that I never heard of until Quentin Tarantino mentioned it a couple times on the Pure Cinema Podcast. He also said that RZA liked it, and when I noticed the poster for it on a background for RZA’s 36chambers film screenings it reminded me to look it up.

It’s available on Amazon Prime, but be warned that it’s dubbed and with a garbage transfer. Tarantino has said he prefers to watch movies of this era dubbed, but he’s probly seen it projected on 35mm with an audience, which I’m sure makes it more fun. At home streaming it’s amusing, but doesn’t strike me as the classic he considers it.

According to the Hong Kong Movie Database this is also known as LAST STRIKE, KUNG FU AVENGERS, INCREDIBLE DRAGON or TIGER STRIKES AGAIN. The Chinese title, 被迫, seems to translate to something like COMPELLED or FORCED. But calling it SOUL BROTHERS OF KUNG FU emphasizes the presence of African-American newcomer Carl Scott, marketing it for the largely black audience for kung fu movies in the U.S. at the time. Though the poster says “Bruce Li and Carl Scott are the SOUL BROTHERS OF KUNG FU,” the movie focuses more on the relationship between the two Chinese leads, so I thought they were probly the “soul brothers,” bonded like brothers. In their souls. (read the rest of this shit…)

Capone

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

“You know, this is what happens when people spend too much time in Florida.”

I can’t lie. Half of my interest in CAPONE was a curiosity about the legend of its writer/director/editor Josh Trank. If you know who that is, you probly know him for a meteoric rise and fall. The success of one found footage movie (CHRONICLE) led to coveted studio gigs – a giant super hero movie and a Star Wars spin-off. But FANTASTIC FOUR was drastically changed from his cut, he quit the Boba Fett movie before they could fire him, there was a weird story in the Hollywood Reporter about his dogs wrecking a house he rented, and he made the career-sabotaging faux pas of disavowing FANTASTIC FOUR on Twitter just before it was released to terrible reviews and box office.

Seemed like a cautionary tale, and I can’t deny a morbid fascination with it. I didn’t love CHRONICLE, save for its cleverness about fitting good camera moves into found footage, so I wondered how these powerful Hollywood people got, and then lost, so much faith in the guy. But when I saw FANTASTIC FOUR I actually found alot to like about it, especially in the discovering-their-powers scenes that I described at the time as “more inspired by THE FLY than SPIDER-MAN.” And I realized that he hadn’t come completely out of nowhere – he edited and co-produced BIG FAN, a dark comedy/drama I liked.

Five years after his fall into the Great Pit of Carkoon, Trank has resurfaced with a self-generated, independent project, not inspired by “geek properties,” but by one of those historical deep cut kind of stories some people get hooked on. CAPONE is about Al Capone not in his gang years, but the last year of his life, released from prison to live in a mansion in Florida as his mental and physical capacity deteriorate from syphilis and strokes. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fletch

Monday, June 1st, 2020

May 31, 1985

I hadn’t seen FLETCH since the VHS days, and remembered nothing about it. Back then I didn’t know it was based on a book, but this time I had the book, having picked it up from a laundry room book exchange shelf two moves ago. Our building manager had pretty good taste – lots of Elmore Leonard.

The novel is from 1975 and written by Gregory Mcdonald, whose books also inspired the 1972 movie RUNNING SCARED and Johnny Depp’s never-released-in-the-U.S. directorial debut THE BRAVE. It was followed by ten more Fletch novels, if you include the two about his son. It’s a mystery about newspaper reporter I.M. Fletcher, who’s been undercover hanging out with junkies on a beach, working on a story about the drug problem there, when he’s approached by a rich guy named Alan Stanwyk, who offers to pay him $50,000 to come to his house on a certain day and shoot him. Says he has cancer, wants to die before it gets painful, but doesn’t want to commit suicide so his wife can get the life insurance money. He’s got this whole plan for a drifter like Fletch to kill him and get away. Even has a plane booked to fly him out of the country.

Fletch continues with his drug investigation while also investigating Stanwyk’s story. Through various trickery he manufactures reasons to speak on the phone or in person with Stanwyk’s wife, doctor, business associates, etc. He’ll do anything from call his parents pretending to be an insurance investigator to walking right up to his wife claiming to be an old Air Force friend who met her at their wedding. He does that while pretending to be a guest at her dad’s tennis club, picking a name off of a locker and ordering screwdrivers on their tab. The more he digs in the more questions he has and the less he understands what this guy is up to. Until, of course, he figures it out. (read the rest of this shit…)

Debt Collectors

Thursday, May 28th, 2020

DEBT COLLECTORS comes to V.O.D. tomorrow, May 29, and to DVD June 2nd. This review has mild spoilers (including my favorite line) if you want to hold off until you’ve seen it.

Friends, the Scott Adkins/Jesse V. Johnson streak continues to continue. In just four years the martial arts star and director have collaborated on SAVAGE DOG, ACCIDENT MAN, THE DEBT COLLECTOR, TRIPLE THREAT, AVENGEMENT, and now DEBT COLLECTORS, a very welcome plural sequel to their singularly titled criminal-lowlifes-on-the-outskirts-of-L.A. buddy movie. Like the first one it’s written by Johnson and Stu Small (ACCIDENT MAN).

I loved THE DEBT COLLECTOR and thought it was a shame they got shot up at the end since I would have loved to see those characters have more misadventures. Honestly even if it had ended with them alive and a TO BE CONTINUED I wouldn’t have taken it for granted that they’d be able to make another one. So I’m thankful. If you need to know how the story continues, it’s pretty much the 3 FROM HELL approach: yes, they got shot, isn’t it amazing they survived? One in a million. (read the rest of this shit…)

A View to a Kill

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

May 24, 1985

On the subject of James Bond movies I’m ignorant. A very casual viewer. I come to A VIEW TO A KILL as an ordinary civilian perusing the films of Summer 1985 and hoping this could be a good action movie for its era. According to publicly available data, it is the seventh and final of Roger Moore’s outings as 007. All of his except THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN were summer releases like this, attempting to fulfill that popcorn blockbuster kind of slot, drawing in regular chumps like me along with the generations of die hards.

Last year I reviewed LICENCE TO KILL in my summer of ’89 series and it was cool how much that one combined the standard Bond material with the tropes of ’80s action movies, to the point that he turned in his badge to go get revenge on a South American druglord played by Robert Davi. During the opening credit sequence of A VIEW TO A KILL I could imagine it being a very 1985 Bond in a similar way, and for that brief moment it was beautiful. (read the rest of this shit…)

Brewster’s Millions

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

May 22, 1985

On the same Wednesday that RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II was released, Walter Hill followed up HARD TIMES, THE DRIVER, THE WARRIORS, THE LONG RIDERS, SOUTHERN COMFORT, 48 HRS. and STREETS OF FIRE with a new movie produced by Lawrence Gordon (ROLLING THUNDER, PREDATOR, DIE HARD) and Joel Silver (COMMANDO, LETHAL WEAPON, ROAD HOUSE) and starring the great Richard Pryor (THE MACK, HIT!). But it was a pretty dumb PG-rated comedy that doesn’t really take full advantage of either of their skills, other than Pryor’s general likability.

Pryor plays Monty Brewster, pitcher for the minor league baseball team the Hackensack Bulls. He and his best friend/catcher Spike Nolan (John Candy, THE SILENT PARTNER) try to be big fish in a small pond, hitting on baseball groupies at a bar after the game, but even there they’re medium-sized, overshadowed by a manlier player from the away team (Grand L. Bush, DIE HARD, LICENCE TO KILL, STREET FIGHTER). Which leads to a bar brawl, the most Walter Hill part of the movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rambo: First Blood Part II

Friday, May 22nd, 2020

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’

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

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

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

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

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

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…)