ALI BOMAYE!

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt

tn_an3Well, up until now these French waver films and these ninja movies have been virtually indistinguishable to the layman. But we now finally – finally! – have come to a major difference between the American Ninja Joe Armstrong and the 400 Blowing Antoine Doinel: Joe’s not even in his part 3. Instead the story centers on a different American Ninja, Sean Davidson (first timer David Bradley, later of AMERICAN SAMURAI). The connection is Steve James as Curtis Jackson, who’s still relegated to the role of unquestioningly loyal friend and backup who shows up with a Rambo headband for the climax. At least he gets top billing this time.

That forced me to wonder: has Curtis really been the Antoine Doinel character this whole time? Was I being racist by assuming it was Joe? I think Joe has stronger parallels in his background and criminal record, but here Curtis is, like Antoine in STOLEN KISSES, fresh out of the military, on the prowl for beautiful women, and drawn into a mystery. But he probly wasn’t dishonorably discharged, he doesn’t try to make any of the relationships serious, and his mystery involves a private island where a guy called The Cobra (evangelist turned actor Marjoe Gortner) is creating some kind of virus to turn people into killers or something. To sell to a terrorist I believe?

(read the rest of this shit…)

Marjoe

tn_marjoeMARJOE is the 1972 documentary portrait of Marjoe Gortner, a fourth generation Pentecostal evangelist who was trained to stir up a storm of hallelujahs and threats of the eternal flame when he was as little as four years old. We see the little goober in vintage clips, weirdly hopping and waving his arms around, shouting in his southern accent (even though he was born in Long Beach) about “Jee-zus” and how “I stand firm in my belief that the Bible is the word of God” and you’re gonna go to Hell if you’re not saved and something about juvenile delinquency. Kids preach the darndest things.

It’s got that quality of precociousness that rides the line between adorable and creepy, like little Michael Jackson or little Stevie Wonder when they were singing their hearts out about love affairs, as if they knew what the words even meant. But in his case the parents claim that Jesus made him do it, made him the Shirley Temple of fire and brimstone.

still_marjoe (read the rest of this shit…)

Stolen Kisses

tn_stolenkissesSTOLEN KISSES – or as I would have retitled it, 400 BLOWS III: THE SHADOW AGENDA – is the story of Antoine Doinel, an ex-military private eye hitting the streets for a case that will change everything. Or whatever.

This is the one that brings Antoine into the worlds of adulthood and color photography. It’s also the most Cannon-like so far because it opens with him as a soldier in an army jail, much like Joe Armstrong found himself in AMERICAN NINJA, except he’s reading The Lily In the Valley to show off that he loves books and instead of getting out when ninjas come to attack him the guards just let him out and he’s told he’s being kicked out of the army.

In real life Truffaut, after being rejected by the girl who Colette was based on in ANTOINE AND COLETTE, attempted suicide, then joined the army, deserted, went to military prison, etc. So this is autobiographical again.

Antoine can’t hold in all his impish smiles as the commanding officer reads the list of every place he went AWOL and lectures him for willingly enlisting but then not even trying to do a good job. This is not a “punched out the commander for giving him a command he couldn’t follow” type of situation. No, he just sucks at his job. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Nice Guys

tn_niceguysHolland March (Ryan Gosling, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues) is an alcoholic widower single father bottom-feeding private eye hired by an old lady (Lois Smith, KILLSHOT) for a case that has him following a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley, PALO ALTO). Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe, NO WAY BACK) is a divorced thug hired by Amelia to beat up the people following her, i.e. March. When some other guys (Beau Knapp, the great Keith David) attack Healy at his apartment asking for Amelia he decides to go back to March and hire him to help find Amelia and ask her what’s going on. So by trying to cut down on getting beat up this unlikely pair gets gummed up in a case involving a dead porn star and a corporate collusion conspiracy.

Of the two, the detective seems like the dumb one. But he has good luck and a smart daughter, 13-year-old Holly (Angourie Rice, WALKING WITH DINOSAURS 3D) who nancy drews him through the mystery. March is also a total coward who screams like a little girl and gives up information at the slightest threat. Healy behaves much more professionally, though he still does stupid shit like forget his brass knuckles at home when he goes to beat somebody up. And then it’s too late to drive back and get them.

That’s because this is the latest from Shane Black, as both director and writer (with Anthony Bagarozzi), so it’s a twisty, complex mystery, a serious detective story but with frequent laughs from characters doing the wrong thing or the weird thing or saying what you’re not supposed to say. Goofing on tropes but also respecting their usefulness. (read the rest of this shit…)

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation

“That damn American ninja. Fights like a tiger. We’ll have to get rid of him.”

tn_an2The opening credits of AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION feature a badass theme song (composer George S. Clinton, who had already done AVENGING FORCE for Cannon and Dudikoff, joins the series) as three dudes confidently cruise on their motorcycles, journeying through mountain roads. They’re wearing tinted helmets, so we wonder is this is Joe Armstrong, the American Ninja, and some other Army guys? Is it some scary villains he’s gonna have to face? Who is it?

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They turn out to be some weinery dudes who drive up to a bar and immediately get bullied. One of them, Tommy Taylor (Jonathan Pienaar, BLOOD DIAMOND), steps away and cowers nearby while his friends get beaten up, and then all the sudden a bunch of ninjas walk in and carry them away.

In this enjoyable sequel Joe (Michael Dudikoff) and Curtis Jackson (Steve James) are still best friends, and still in the Army, now as Rangers. They seem to receive more respect now, and maybe I’m naive but when they’re sent on the mission that the last guys (the guys at the bar) disappeared on it really seems to be because of faith in their abilities, not to get rid of them. (read the rest of this shit…)

Antoine and Colette

tn_antoineANTOINE AND COLETTE, a.k.a. THE 401ST BLOW (not really), is only about half an hour long, ’cause it was originally the first segment of an anthology called WHEN YOU’RE 20 AND IN LOVE, with other ones directed by Shintaro Ishihara, Marcel Ophuls, Renzo Rossellini and Andrzej Wajda. I couldn’t find the whole thing, but they have DVDs that include just Truffaut’s segment along with THE 400 BLOWS or the earlier short LES MISTONS. It is the continued blowing adventures of Antoine (still Jean-Pierre Leaud). Patrick Auffay also returns as his best friend Rene, who now is in love with his cousin because she has short hair like Joan of Arc. I’m not sure if that was a French thing or a Truffaut thing. I’m gonna try not to judge. Anyway the two of them have a flashback to when they almost got caught smoking Rene’s dad’s cigars.

Isn’t that weird? What if Tarantino’s segment of FOUR ROOMS was about, like, Jules Winfield and the bartender Paul, and had a flashback to their scene in PULP FICTION? We might be living in a different world then. (read the rest of this shit…)

American Ninja

tn_americanninjab“You know, loners don’t go too far in this outfit.”

AMERICAN NINJA is a Cannon Films classic starring model-turned-action-star Michael Dudikoff as army-rookie-with-a-mysterious-ninja-past Joe Armstrong. I already reviewed it several years ago and in my opinion it was a well-written review with some points and some jokes that I wouldn’t have thought of now. For example I said that the ninjas in the yellow costumes would be good at hiding in a banana tree or a field of dandelions. You gotta have that youthful eye of the tiger to come up with that one.

But today I am revisiting AMERICAN NINJA for an important new series in which we will compare each installment of Francois Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series to each installment of Golan and Globus’s AMERICAN NINJA series. Why, does the AMERICAN NINJA series follow the same character as he ages? Well, not really, I don’t think so, but I can’t think of a better pairing of quintologies to represent the full spectrum of cinema art from the respected and high brow (“brilliantly and strikingly reveals the explosion of a fresh creative talent… a picture that encourages an exciting refreshment of faith in films” wrote Bosley Crowther in The New York Times) to the… other kind (“Woefully acted, abysmally written… an embarrassment even when held to the low standards of grade C exploitation movies” wrote Candice Russell in The Sun Sentinel). By alternating between them and comparing and contrasting how they approach each chapter I hope we’ll find the true meaning of art or whatever. (read the rest of this shit…)

The 400 Blows

tn_400blowsTHE 400 BLOWS is the story of Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud), 12-year-old terror of Paris. Francois Truffaut, having been a writer and editor at Cahiers du Cinema and notorious for harshly lashing out at a perceived mediocrity in French film of the time, made his feature directing debut turning childhood memories into cinema. So… the critic has become the critiqued! Actually, that worked pretty well for him. THE 400 BLOWS launched a legendary directing career, won him best director at Cannes, and has been cited as a favorite movie by no less than Akira Kurosawa. People seemed to like it.

Antoine is a kid who gets into some trouble. In fact, the title is from a French idiom that basically means “to raise hell.” So this could be called RAISING HELL. The second Doinel film, ANTOINE ET COLETTE, translates to TOUGHER THAN LEATHER in my opinion. Anyway, Antoine may 400 blow and raise hell and bring da ruckus, but he’s not a Bad Seed or a Problem Child. We can see that he’s not any worse than the other kids most of the time. His buddy Rene (Patrick Auffay) does all the same things Antoine does, for example they steal and smoke Rene’s dad’s cigars together. But Antoine seems to usually be the one that gets caught or blamed. When all the kids are passing around a pin-up in class, of course it has to be Antoine that’s holding it when the teacher (Guy Decomble, BOB LE FLAMBEUR) turns around.

The teacher obviously doesn’t like him. He thinks he’s bad, so he treats him as bad. How’s Antoine ever supposed to do better when he’s walking around with a target on his head? Of course he fulfills the prophecy. (read the rest of this shit…)

Well wishes to Darwyn Cooke

parker1I would like to send out some positive energy to the great artist Darwyn Cooke, who is apparently very ill. Sadly his wife announced today that he is “now receiving palliative care following a bout with aggressive cancer.”

You comic book fans must know Cooke for a million things, but of course I know him as the man who since 2009 has been doing comics adaptations of my favorite book series, the Parker novels by Richard Stark. Although of course the change in medium requires a simplification merely by removing most of the words, Cooke (who received the blessings and input of Donald Westlake when he started the project) has been astonishingly faithful to the material. I love his clean, cartoony style, his bold use of shadows, his retro two-tone coloring and his appreciation for the graphic and architectural styles of the 1960s world he sets the books in. The man knows how to draw a good diner sign, and seems to have a catalog of the different types of faces you don’t see anymore.

I also think I must have similar tastes in Parker books to Cooke, because I love the choices he’s made of which ones to adapt. He started of course with The Hunter (the first one, and basis of POINT BLANK and PAYBACK). Then he skipped to The Outfit, possibly my favorite of the series, but he also included a prologue that’s a little mini-version of book two, The Man With the Getaway Face, so that he could include the fun fact that Parker got plastic surgery to hide his identity after The Hunter. And that way Cooke could completely change his character design after his first book.

Then Cooke went for my other possible favorite entry in the series, The Score, the one where they take down an entire mining town. I implore you to read the original novel, an epic heist story, but it’s also really cool to see Cooke’s visual translation, which is heavy on blueprints and diagrams.

Finally he did Slayground, which is one of my least favorite books in the series, but also the most ripe for this type of reinterpretation. The book has a great premise – Parker hiding in a closed amusement park being hunted while trying to recover a stash of money – but plays more like a recipe for what would be a cool action movie than a successful story in the Parker tradition. Therefore I really enjoyed experiencing it in a visual medium. (The movie starring Peter Coyote doesn’t count, because it barely has anything to do with the main part of the book.)

Finding artwork for this post led me to the fact that there are some hardcover editions of the original novels illustrated with Cooke paintings (that’s what the ad at the upper right of this post is for). I must’ve heard about that but forgot all about it. That erases any minor misgivings I had about people maybe using the comics as replacements for the great novels. I should pick those up.

Anyway, I’m very sorry to hear about Cooke and my thoughts are with him and his family. Thanks for all the beautiful pictures bud, you really know your lines and shapes.

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Captain America: Civil War

tn_cap3You guys know how these super heroes are. Good guys turning bad, bad guys turning good, Hawkeye getting mind-controlled by a magic crystal, alternate dimensions, recastings, reboots, team-ups, betrayals, fake deaths. It’s no surprise they can’t all get along. I mean, it was hard for Nick Fury to convince them to be The Avengers in the first place – in fact a guy had to die and then he had to cover up that he actually didn’t die (see tv show) to inspire them to even stay together in the first place. So it’s a miracle they went this long without a breakup. The Pharcyde only got through two albums. N.W.A only did one before Cube left.

In what is technically CAPTAIN AMERICA 3, but almost seems like THE AVENGERS 3, the government tries to get the Avengers to agree to being controlled by the U.N. That actually seems better than the original formation under S.H.I.E.L.D., a privacy-invading ultra-spy agency that turned out to be controlled by evil space-Nazis or whatever. But after three years of the Avengers as an indie locally-owned Mom & Pop super-team, Captain Steve R. America (Chris Evans,  STREET KINGS, SNOWPIERCER) – who, to his credit, was never comfortable with S.H.I.E.L.D. – is not about to sell out. He doesn’t want to risk being sent somewhere he doesn’t belong, or not being allowed to go somewhere that he does.

But Tony “the Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr., NATURAL BORN KILLERS, 1985-1986 season SNL cast member) and some of the others think it’s a good idea. At the actual signing ceremony there’s a bombing that kills the King of Wakanda (John Kani, THE WILD GEESE), and security photos pin it on Steve’s war buddy Bucky T. Wintersoldier (Sebastian Stan, THE COVENANT, RICKI AND THE FLASH), who fell off a bridge in part 1 but in part 2 turned out to be alive and had been frozen and had a robot arm and was brainwashed and was a super assassin and evil but maybe he’s still Bucky inside but now he’s on the run (long story). The police and the Avengers are after him to kill him but Steve believes he can be rehabilitated and wants to bring him in alive. So it turns into a ghost protocol with Steve and an all star team of sympathizers going underground, and the two sides get into some scraps. (read the rest of this shit…)