"If victory favors me, I will protect your child with my life."

"I ask you not to worry about that possibility. Because my son and I live on the Demon Way in Hell, we're prepared to descend into Hell through the Six Realms and Four Lives."

Dragon Blood

tn_dragonbloodDRAGON BLOOD (1982) is the third and final John Liu directorial work, and the only one where the American release doesn’t pretend it’s about ninjas. This one is a traditional period martial arts picture, so he can’t play Hong Kong movie star and creator of Zen Kwan Do John Liu. Or at least I don’t think so. But about halfway through he’s referred to by name for the first time, and it’s “John Liu.” Also, his co-star of all three films, Roger Paschy, plays “Paschy.” Maybe they’re older than they look. Or maybe they’re just such iconic characters they can be transported to different time periods, like Mickey Mouse.

This John Liu is the son of China’s best fighter. Dear old dad won that title and two small golden dragons from the Emperor. That was a curse, though, because he spent the rest of his life fighting off Chinese challengers to the title and western treasure seekers. He hated it. A total bummer. Never win the golden dragons, is my advice.

But on his last day he fights a guy who does not want the dragons, just the honor of challenging the greatest fighter, and as a fight connoisseur himself he’s cool with that. But then he gets jumped by another guy so he gives the dragons to the first guy and makes him promise to take care of his son. Personally I would be like, “Well, I mean, I’m flattered, but I wasn’t really looking for that type of a life time commitment here,” but this guy is more responsible so he becomes John Liu’s adoptive father. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ninja in the Claws of the C.I.A.

tn_ninjacia“I see you’re running out of Oriental tricks.”

Director/star John Liu followed up his directational debut AVENGING NINJA/ZEN KWUN DO STRIKES IN PARIS with SHA SHOU YING, which has also been called MADE IN CHINA and according to some sources KUNG FU EMANUELLE, but that might be some confusion with the previous one which I have been told has an EMMANUELLE related title. Anyway, I rented it as NINJA IN THE CLAWS OF THE C.I.A., an appropriate followup to AVENGING NINJA since once again he is not playing a ninja. He does toss a throwing star into a guy’s hand, though. Still, a non-ninja movie like this being included in “The Ultimate Ninja Collection” DVD series seems questionable in my opinion just my two cents.

But at least it’s true that he’s in the claws of the C.I.A. So the title is based partly in truth. (read the rest of this shit…)

Avenging Ninja

tn_avengingninja“I don’t get it. Why do we have to fight?”

AVENGING NINJA is a movie with no ninjas, and no vengeance. And I don’t think it’s a metaphor, either. It’s just the marketable American video title for a Taiwanese/Hong Kong production that also goes by the more accurate title ZEN KWUN DO STRIKES PARIS.

The movie, which is produced by “John Liu’s (H.K.) Film Corp.”, stars John Liu, a Taiwanese martial artist who was in the SECRET RIVALS trilogy and INVINCIBLE ARMOUR, or “successor to the immortal Bruce Lee legacy,” as the oversized VHS box calls him. And he directs, writes and produces. Also he’s playing himself, John Liu, movie actor and founder of the Zwen Kwan Do fighting system, which he pits against various champions of different disciplines and nationalities. The credits list the championships of the five top-billed actors (“JOHN LIU 1964, 1967 World Karate Champion”). Also there are three names under the category “Top French Movies & TV Stars,” and somebody named “Brigitte Mannequin.” I’m not sure who that is, but I like her.

As the movie begins it’s in the news that John Liu, the disgraced martial arts teacher now working in the Hong Kong film industry, has been summoned to Paris to investigate the kidnapping of his father, a “well known American aerospace scientist.” He’s in no hurry though. He’s still filming a movie, and is told to slow down his moves so the camera can get them, something they used to say happened to Jet Li. But maybe they said that about everybody. (read the rest of this shit…)

Riding the Edge

RIDING THE EDGE is an ’80s teen adventure I’de never heard of before stumbling across a VHS tape. From the box it sounded like IRON EAGLE with dirt bikes instead of fighter jets. I also noticed it had Catherine Mary Stewart, who I really liked in NIGHT OF THE COMET, and was directed by James Fargo, Clint Eastwood’s former a.d. who directed THE ENFORCER, EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE, and FORCED VENGEANCE. And VOYAGE OF THE ROCK ALIENS.

It begins in The Middle East, where an American scientist beloved by his staff and respected for his advancements in computer chip technology is kidnapped by a team of guerrillas led by a German mercenary (the original Simon Gruber). They rappel in and grab him to force his company to give them some of his chips. Because he has a photo of his son Matt (Raphael Sbarge, CARNOSAUR, THE HIDDEN II, the voice on the phone in MIRACLE MILE) at a dirt bike race in his wallet they demand that he be the courier. (read the rest of this shit…)

Dragged Across Concrete

This is my piece about being torn between loving S. Craig Zahler’s movies and being grossed out by the worldview they seem to represent. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

I’ve been waiting for DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE with a new emotion I call antici-dread. On one hand, it’s writer-director Zahler’s followup to BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99, maybe my favorite movie of 2017. On the other hand, it’s his ode to racist cops and I’m starting to worry that my love for Zahler’s right-up-my-alley tone and filmatism has made me too quick to brush off questions about his fascination with casual racism and anti-heroes brutalizing minorities to protect the white women.

I really like BONE TOMAHAWK and BRAWL, and I’m not entirely convinced by some of the interpretations of them I’ve heard. But I got nervous when producer Dallas Sonnier (who has also done very good work, from managing Stone Cold Steve Austin to resurrecting Fangoria) did a press tour about his company Cinestate’s “populist” movies – code for “quiet 2+ hour slow burn niche art movies with occasional bursts of extreme gore” – saying they appeal to a “neglected audience” in “the age of Trump.” Asked about BRAWL receiving “4 out of 5 swastikas” from a white supremacist reviewer, Sonnier was only quoted with a less than forceful, “The reactions that come from them, we can’t control.”

I sure hope it’s all a big wacky misunderstanding, but to me it seems suspiciously like a “very fine people on both sides” marketing strategy. Then Zahler rebooted PUPPET MASTER to be about funny puppet hate crimes, and off-handedly referred to GET OUT as “manure” with no explanation in his Fangoria column, and at some point you gotta acknowledge a pattern even if it’s gonna fuck with your enjoyment of singular, committed, badass crime stories. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fist of the North Star

FIST OF THE NORTH STAR is a straight-to-video live action manga adaptation post-apocalyptic white people martial arts b-movie that I’ve been meaning to watch for about 20 years even though everybody said it was garbage. And I’m sure if I knew the comics or the anime version I would hold it to different standards, but coming to it fresh I gotta tell you this one checks off alot of boxes of the type of shit I enjoy in a movie. I am here to tell you it has merit.

The villain is the head of the Southern Cross martial arts school, who rebuilds a city after World War III and becomes its dictator, and the hero is the last heir of the rival North Star school, whose powerful fighting style is the only thing that can defeat Southern Cross. And even though their names are Shin and Kenshiro they are played by two white dudes, Costas Mandylor (VIRTUOSITY) and Gary Daniels (COLD HARVEST).

Today this would be frowned upon as whitewashing, and fair enough. But I guess I’ve grown up fascinated with white adoptees of martial arts from the ’70s and ’80s kung fu, karate and ninja booms, and to me there’s something sort of awesomely stupid (in a good way) about these muscular dudes with mullets and leather vests without shirts being the last great martial arts warriors of the future. And I have no right to impose this policy on the outside world, but in my mind there’s a statute of limitations that says since he’s not pretending to be Asian in any way Gary Daniels is grandfathered in to be allowed to be named Kenshiro as he practices moves on the bones of western and/or eastern civilization.

One complaint: why no headbands? I have rarely seen two dudes more worthy of cool headbands. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Guilty

THE GUILTY is an elegantly minimalistic Danish thriller. It’s a premise that makes LOCKE seem needlessly extravagant. Like that movie it’s a story told entirely through its lead character’s phone conversations, but in this one he’s not driving around. Tom Hardy saw it and said “God damn it! Why did you put me through all that? I could’ve just been in a room.” I’m not sure which accent he used.

(I haven’t seen BURIED and don’t remember much about THE TELEPHONE with Whoopi Goldberg, so I don’t know. Maybe they make this look like Michael Bay.)

The visuals take place entirely inside a small call center at a police station. The beautiful thing is that it neither feels like a gimmick or a thing they could’ve changed if they’d had a bigger budget. No, it just feels like the natural, best way to tell this particular story. (read the rest of this shit…)

Us

If you haven’t seen Jordan Peele’s second movie US and you’re just wondering if I recommend it, the answer is yes. Personally, I loved it. I don’t expect everyone to feel the same, or as strongly.  Not everybody’s gonna be looking for the same things. The record breaking opening weekend proves Peele is still playing to more than just the people who go to lots of horror movies, and it’s hard to know what anyone will demand from the followup to a small horror movie so broadly popular it broke all rules by being nominated for best picture.

I think this is one with all kinds of fascinating things going on beneath the surface, as we now expect from Peele and his “social horror,” but that’s not the primary thing I’m looking for. It also really speaks to me just with its directorial style and the bugged out horror ride it takes us on.

I don’t want to write anything tip-toeing around those things they held back in the marketing. I’m thankful the trailer didn’t give away the whole game. So I’ve written a VERY SPOILERFUL review for after you’ve seen it only. I hope if you haven’t seen it you’ll come back after you have. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mortal Engines

You might’ve figured a new sci-fi/fantasy produced and written by Peter Jackson and his fellowship (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens), and directed by his storyboard artist/effects guy since DEAD ALIVE Christian Rivers, would be a pretty big deal. I had hoped to see it in 3D, but it came out the same week as THE MULE and SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE and then the next week I wanted to see AQUAMAN, MARY POPPINS RETURNS and BUMBLEBEE and since the movie flopped the showtimes dropped precipitously and it was gone before I got to it. Plus, everybody said it sucked.

Wrong! I am happy to report that MORTAL ENGINES is pretty fuckin cool! It’s based on a young adult book, and there are some costumes and characters that follow a sort of steampunk or HUNGER GAMES city dweller style that I’m not into it, but it’s an adventure in an interesting world with cool characters and the spectacular effects of Weta at their best.

The movie centers around futuristic London, which is a “predator city,” meaning the whole fucking thing drives around the wastelands like a giant tank looking for resources, which they get by “ingesting” smaller cities to steal their machines and citizens. In the opening scene they chase down a small mining town and swallow it up. When I saw the Londoners on the fancy top deck watching the chase and cheering I fell in love with the movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Ranger

THE RANGER is a pretty solid, pretty simple little horror movie about some punks in a remote cabin running afoul of a psychotic forest ranger. It’s a little more serious than that sounds, but in an interesting way, not a pretentious one. I believe it takes place some time in the ’80s, because there’s a Walkman but no cell phones, but otherwise it could take place any time in the last 35 years or so. Punks are timeless.

The story centers on Chelsea (Chloe Levine, The Defenders), whose family owns the cabin. She was there as a little girl when her uncle (Larry Fessenden, the Stan Lee of indie horror) died under grisly and not-yet-fully-explained-to-us circumstances. Now she gets pushed into bringing her friends there to hide out after her shithead boyfriend Garth (Granit Lahu) stabs a cop during a police raid at a punk show. (read the rest of this shit…)