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Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Penitentiary III

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

Well holy shit. I’ve taken my sweet time getting to all three of Jamaa Fanaka’s PENITENTIARY movies, but they’ve all lived up to my hopes. If you’re not familiar, they star Leon Isaac Kennedy (LONE WOLF McQUADE) as Martel “Too Sweet” Gordone, a man who is unjustly incarcerated but becomes a legend in the prison boxing circuit. I’m sure it’s an inspiration for the UNDISPUTED series, but Fanaka’s world is angrier, dirtier, and much, much weirder.

Released in 1979, PENITENTIARY was actually the third movie Fanaka made while attending UCLA. Unlike other directors considered part of the L.A. Rebellion film movement, he was more attracted to Hollywood than to political statements, so he made straight up lurid and entertaining blaxploitation movies. But racism, cruelty and injustice are central to his stories.

PENITENTIARY II (1982) brings the action into the outside world, and it’s a little slicker and more expensive, so it features Mr. T and Ernie Hudson.

But PENITENTIARY III (1987) is a Cannon Film. It is not fucking around. It would be an exaggeration to say that Cannon did to the PENITENTIARY series what they did to THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE with part 2, but there’s definitely a hint of that sort of unhinged insanity. We find Too Sweet still a free man, competing as a legitimate boxer, when his corner man is paid off to put something in his water. (That he looks over his shoulder nervously and then just openly pours something into the water in front of an audience without anyone noticing is one of many goofy touches.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Cobra Kai (Season 1)

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

I don’t have the attachment many people I know have to the KARATE KID movies. But I’m kinda into their mythology, especially after my recent dip into the more over-the-top b-movie villainy of part III. So I excitedly took advantage of a free window (until September 11th) to watch the ten half-hour-ish episodes in the first season of the premium Youtube series Cobra Kai.

Even in today’s gold rush for nostalgic i.p. this seems like a too-good-to-be-true sequel scenario, especially for my interests. Ralph Macchio – now actually older than Pat Morita was in the first movie! – returns as Daniel LaRusso, but so does William Zabka as part 1 nemesis Johnny Lawrence, and even though Macchio gets top billing, Zabka is treated as the underdog hero, like Iceman Chambers in UNDISPUTED II, or like I wanted them to do with Martin Kove’s villainous sensei John Kreese after seeing him down and out in the opening scenes of KARATE KID III. Broke, washed up, divorced, drinking Coors all day, still listening to Ratt and wearing Van Halen t-shirts, Johnny attempts to re-open the Cobra Kai dojo in a strip mall next to a vape store. But he’s so bad at salesmanship he ends up having only one student, a nice kid named Miguel (Xolo Mariduena, Parenthood) who tempers some of his worst tendencies while being empowered by his macho tough love and “strike first, strike hard, no mercy” philosophy. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Karate Kid Part III

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE was not the only part 3 on offer for Summer of ’89 – there was also John Avildsen’s THE KARATE KID PART III. And as Mrs. Vern pointed out to me, the series kind of follows the same pattern as Indy: there’s the popular first one, the second one goes off in a different direction (bringing him to Japan), and then the third one plays it safe by being closer to part 1, with Cobra Kai, John Kreese and the All-Valley Karate Tournament. And then of course both series also have a much later, unpopular part 4 and a pretty enjoyable remake starring Jaden Smith.

I think PART II had an okay reception, and this isn’t supposed to be an apology for it like LAST CRUSADE was for TEMPLE OF DOOM. But it’s kinda funny to me because PART II’s trailer narrator said, “No more tournaments. No more cheering crowds. This time… the combat… is real.” Of course there’s no more tournaments and crowds and shit, that wasn’t real combat at all, that was for babies, and only a complete coward would make another movie about that kind of sissy bullshit. We have moved well beyond that nonsense and fuck you if you even think for one second that– oh, what’s that? We’re doing tournaments and cheering crowds again? Oh, cool! Welcome back! (read the rest of this shit…)

Creed II

Monday, November 26th, 2018

CREED was a perfect movie, a miracle that unexpectedly resurrected the ROCKY series. CREED II, coming from a different director and writers, cannot match it. But it’s a solid continuation of beloved characters from both the original series and the new one that brings them to new places in life, with some boxing, training montages and dramatic music in between. Kinda like ROCKY II.

And of course there are other parallels. Adonis (Michael B. Jordan, RED TAILS) becoming champ, getting married and becoming a father, and also being embarrassed to be seen by the media while coming out of the hospital all beat up. But he doesn’t get a tiger jacket, so it’s not a remake of ROCKY II. Mostly it’s a direct sequel to CREED and ROCKY IV.

Before they ever even announced a CREED II, you and I and everybody else were dreaming of the same thing: a sequel where Adonis meets the man who killed his father in the ring, Ivan Drago, and has to fight his son. It’s one of those things that’s so obvious that they sort of had to do it. If the sequel was about anything else, no matter how exciting, you’d just think “Yeah, but why not Ivan Drago?” (read the rest of this shit…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)