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Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

He Got Game

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

also May 1, 1998

I remember thinking of HE GOT GAME as a slightly under-the-radar Spike Lee joint, but I think it’s become pretty well known over the years. It’s just that it’s in that middle period where he still seemed to have clout but the cultural excitement around him was on a slow, inevitable decline after touching the sun in 1992 with MALCOLM X.

With CLOCKERS and GET ON THE BUS he got increasingly experimental with his style, switching between different film stocks and handheld cameras in energetic ways that I always thought were influenced by Homicide: Life on the Street. HE GOT GAME is a uniquely stylish film that seems more inspired by slick commercials and sports show intros. The story is about the ugly, exploitative side of college athletics, but the style is all about worshiping basketball as the great American sport.

Two credits give you an idea of Lee’s lofty approach: “Music: Aaron Copland. Songs: Public Enemy.” The musical score is built from the sweeping 1940s “populist” style orchestral pieces by, as Lee puts it on the commentary track, “the great American composer from Brooklyn, New York.” Pieces used include “Our Town,” “Lincoln Portrait” and “Fanfare for the Common Man.” The latter has been used in sports broadcasts and Navy ads, it has played on Space Shuttles and inspired the scores for both SUPERMAN and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. It was originally composed upon America’s entry into WWII. Copland considered the titles “Fanfare for a Solemn Ceremony” and “Fanfare for Four Freedoms” before using a term he heard in a speech by Vice President Henry A. Wallace. These are reverent Americana anthems for the pursuit of happiness and amber waves of grain and all that. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Penitentiary II

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

PENITENTIARY II (1982) is that thing we love where a director has been burning it up on the fringes and then they get a little more resources behind them and they really go for it. Still low budget and outside of the mainstream, but more professional than the first PENITENTIARY (1979) or the two other features writer-director Jamaa Fanaka made while still a student at UCLA. So he’s still hungry and crazy, but able to accomplish more. It’s one of the beautiful parts of life.

And you know this shit is gonna be good when there’s an opening scene and then a full credit sequence set to grimy DOLEMITE-esque blaxploitation funk and then a long STAR WARS style scroll explaining in more detail than necessary what’s going on.

The score is by Jack Wheaton, additional music by Marvin Gaye’s guitarist and musical director Gordon Banks. I tend to think that outside of the electro stuff like Zapp and “Atomic Dog,” funk no longer existed in the ’80s. Tell that to these opening credits, though: (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

American Angels: Baptism of Blood

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

It’s kind of funny that I finally watched Mimi Lesseo’s first movie AMERICAN ANGELS: BAPTISM OF BLOOD shortly after that GLOW show, because it has many parallels. A group of newbies try out for an all-female weekly wrestling show, have friendships and grudges, one falls for the sleazy but nice guy that runs it, the women live together, learn how to take falls, have training montages, a rivalry develops, they have the big match and bond through wrestling.

A couple big differences:

1) “American Angels” is not a startup, but an already established and successful promotion

2) Wrestling is treated (at least sometimes) as real fighting. It’s weird

3) It’s genuine exploitation with raw acting and laughably gratuitous T&A business

A group of women (three of them introduced with documentary style text) audition for the famous American Angels wrestling outfit. Lisa from Bakersfield (Jan Sebastian, GATORBAIT II: CAJUN JUSTICE) is a stripper who, as part of her show, will wrestle a man from the audience (after being rubbed in whip cream). For some reason her boss believes in her talents enough to get his old friend American Angels promoter/commentator Dazzling Dave (Tray Loren, ROCKTOBER BLOOD, also GATORBAIT II) to come watch, and he witnesses her punching the volunteer in the dick for pulling her bra off during the match. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Undisputed II: Last Man Standing (revisited)

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Nine years ago when I caught up to UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING I declared it the first DTV sequel better than its theatrical predecessor, and I finally understood the internet love for its star Michael Jai White, who I’d previously thought of as the guy from SPAWN. But I still didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as I do now. Yesterday’s pleasant surprise has become today’s under-recognized genre classic.

Since then we’ve seen White star in more vehicles worthy of his talents (BLOOD & BONE and BLACK DYNAMITE being standouts), we’ve seen choreographer J.J. “Loco” Perry further make his mark with HAYWIRE before moving up to giant movies like FATE OF THE FURIOUS, and we’ve seen villain Scott Adkins grow into a martial arts icon in his own right, often working with this same great director, Isaac Florentine (NINJA, NINJA II: SHADOW OF A TEAR, CLOSE RANGE).

But even looking back, UNDISPUTED II is not a stepping stone to greatness. It’s an example of it.

(read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Undisputed (revisited)

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Ever since the unlikely series of events that turned UNDISPUTED into one of today’s greatest action franchises, I’ve tried to better appreciate Walter Hill’s 2002 prison boxing drama that started it all. In my review from fifteen years ago I called it “asinine” and generally had a bad attitude toward it without really giving a strong argument for why. Over the years I’ve rewatched it a few times and though I always think it’s decent, it never quite clicks for me. I can’t say that’s entirely changed on this viewing, but I definitely liked it more than on previous viewings.

So I did it! I better appreciated it!

The story is about a humble toothpick-model-builder and convicted murderer named Monroe Hutchen (Wesley Snipes, MONEY TRAIN) who’s just minding his own business being the undefeated champion of a secret prison boxing league when suddenly the actual heavyweight champion of professional boxing, George “The Iceman” Chambers (Ving Rhames, THE TOURNAMENT) gets locked up there. And it’s like having both a Jason and a Freddy out there in the universe – eventually, one way or another, these two are gonna have to end up pitting their skills against each other so we can see who wins. After all, the legendary mobster Mendy Ripstein (Peter Falk, PRONTO) is in there too and he’s a passionate connoisseur of the sweet science, he’s not gonna let it not happen. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

The Sheik

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

As you may know, I don’t watch or understand any wrestling from the past two to three decades, but I retain a fascination and nostalgia from the stuff I did watch in the ’80s. One of the iconic villains of that era was The Iron Sheik, a cartoonish embodiment (along with his fur-hat-wearing Soviet tag team partner Nikolai Volkoff) of America’s most absurd fears of scary foreigners. Looking back it seems like a put-on, a parody, an Andy Kaufman style evisceration of the stereotypes you’d have to be a dummy to believe in, the communists and Middle Easterners who come in and tell us we are weak Americans and then demand that we be respectful as they (gasp) make us sit through their national anthems. And then are outraged when we boo.

It was also a time when some people, due to economic anxiety or whatever, didn’t understand that these were fictional characters. Many Americans presumably believed that the Iron Sheik was real, that this Persian man was behaving this way not because he was an entertainer, but because those guys really hate America, you know? And  in the copious vintage footage included in this very enjoyable 2014 documentary by director Igal Hecht we see the red-faced fury of some of these fans. In interviews we hear about the danger of the Sheik’s “heat” from the crowd, people showing up with guns and shit. Every great heel tells a story like this (the wrestling villain’s humblebrag), but I bet the Middle Eastern angle means he had to be even more careful than Roddy Piper did. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Billy Boy

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

tn_billyboySometimes you’re watching a movie and you’re not really getting anything out of it, but you power through it just so you can say you watched some weird thing that nobody ever heard of. Or at least that’s what I do sometimes. Maybe that explains some things.

The culprit this time was BILLY BOY, a 1978 low rent South African boxing drama. I watched it because I’m on a long term quest to go alphabetically through every movie in this section at Scarecrow Video that’s English language martial arts movies like BLOODSPORT and ENTER THE NINJA and stuff like that. If you are familiar with alphabetical order at all you can see I have a long way to go. I’m still on the first shelf. Anyway, I suspect this one was put in there by mistake but I didn’t want to skip it because what if it was some amazing undiscovered treasure?

It wasn’t.

Duane Bobick stars as amateur boxer Billy Boy Lamont. His father (Willie van Rensburg, also the screenwriter) is a former fighter who is suddenly paralyzed, and Billy Boy can’t find any work to pay for his treatments, so he says he has to fight. Of course his mom (Trix Pienaar, THE COLOR OF FREEDOM) is against it (like Phylicia Rashad in CREED) and also he somehow knows that he’ll get a bunch of money for it. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Penitentiary

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

tn_penitentiaryNot long ago I wrote about director Jamaa Fanaka’s last film, STREET WARS (1992), and before that his first one, WELCOME HOME BROTHER CHARLES, aka SOUL VENGEANCE (1975). You could sum him up as a director of idiosyncratic blaxploitation, but he wasn’t some cynical Hollywood guy going where the money was. He really was a young filmmaker with a voice. He managed to do three feature films while he was still in film school: BROTHER CHARLES, EMMA MAE (1976) and the one he’s best known for, PENITENTIARY (1979).

This is a movie about a guy who gets screwed over by the racist system, goes to prison and makes his way by boxing. We’re talking eight years after SHAFT, seven years after SUPER FLY, three years after ROCKY.

Our hero is Martel “Too Sweet” Gordone (Leon Isaac Kennedy, HAMMER, LONE WOLF MCQUADE), who we first see as a homeless man sleeping in a little tent near a highway. He’s woken up by white dudes off-roading on motorcycles. Hitchhiking, he gets picked up by Linda (Hazel Spear, DISCO GODFATHER), a dream girl with a flower in her hair, driving a cool van. She explains that most people wouldn’t pick up hitchhikers on this highway because there are both men’s and women’s prisons nearby. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Creed

Monday, November 30th, 2015

tn_creedThe world is hard and shitty sometimes, but also sometimes it’s beautiful, and with some luck, some talent and some very hard work, unlikely things can happen. For example, what are the chances that director Ryan Coogler, after his true story police shooting drama FRUITVALE STATION won awards at Sundance and Cannes, would want to use his window of opportunity to pitch a movie about Apollo Creed’s son? And then what are the chances he’d convince Sylvester Stallone to play Rocky Balboa in it and a studio to make it? And finally what are the chances that it would both honor the history of the ROCKY movies and chart its own path to be something new? I don’t know what the odds are, but CREED beat ’em.

Michael B. Jordan (who also starred in FRUITVALE) plays Adonis “Donnie” Johnson who, as an orphaned teenager in and out of group homes, discovered he was the son of the most famous boxer in the world. Moving to the Creed mansion with his father’s wife Mary Anne (now played by Phylicia Rashad instead of Lavelle Roby or Sylvia Meals) takes his life straight from ROCKY to ROCKY III. Hungry to comfortable. As an adult he’s successful in a corporate job, but sneaks off to Tijuana for small time fights.

At his dad’s home gym Delphi in Los Angeles (who must’ve inherited some money from him if that’s supposed to be the same gym from III) nobody will train Adonis. It may be at Mrs. Creed’s request or maybe they just don’t believe in him, but they think it’s too dangerous. His father died in the ring. I love how much of this film’s drama comes specifically from what happened in the most ridiculous sequel. Maybe this will redeem IV for those who think it ruined the series by removing Apollo from it. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Rocky Balboa

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

tn_rockybalboaI already reviewed ROCKY BALBOA when it came out, but it’s such a great movie I wanted to checked in on it again.

It’s hard to believe this humble character drama is Stallone’s directorial followup to the rock n roll tall tale ROCKY IV. The style, the content, the tone, even the character are from different planets. This one has zero (0) Survivor songs in it and it reminds me less of ROCKY IV than of later Clint Eastwood directorial works: quiet, mournful, wintery colors, gentle piano scoring, character driven, raw. And the trashy people who give Rocky a bunch of shit at a bar could be family members from MILLION DOLLAR BABY.

This is a more pure ROCKY I throwback than ROCKY V was because Rocky’s life is simple, humble and gentle again. He’s not poor – he owns a restaurant called Adrian’s – but that’s not exactly high roller shit. He actually runs the place, seems to be there every day to greet customers, does the hiring and shops for some of the ingredients himself. It’s small, and Paulie makes fun of his “Italian food made by Mexicans.”

That Adrian has died since part V is crucial. Even in V, when Rocky lost “everything,” he didn’t lose Adrian. Rocky is alone again, but seems to take it in stride, because he’s Rocky. Although the beginning is specifically about marking the anniversary of Adrian’s death by visiting important places like the ruins of the skating rink where they had their first date, I get the feeling that the shot of him sitting contently at her grave in a folding chair is a pretty regular occurrence. And I love that Paulie lingers uncomfortably on the perimeter just like he did in II when she was in the hospital. He’s very aware that he’s an asshole and doesn’t deserve to be near her as much as Rocky does. He’s tormented by how he treated her. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.