GOYOKIN is the seventh movie from Hideo Gosha, the director who started with THREE OUTLAW SAMURAI and SWORD OF THE BEAST. So he’d been around a bit by that point. It was 1969, the hippie era over here, but questioning authority was part of the samurai movie tradition anyway. The heroes follow a strict code and usually have to deal with some government asshole trying to pervert it. They struggle when there’s a discrepancy between following the rules and doing the right thing. And they always have differing interpretations of what those two things are. But this one seems particularly fitting for a couple summers after the summer of love, because it’s about one man who feels he must stand up against the power structure to stop an atrocity.
It starts with a mysterious incident. A girl returns home to her village to find that everyone has disappeared. Nobody there but her and the crows. They blame it on a curse called the Kamikakushi, but in fact it was a government sanctioned massacre. Some Waco shit. The Saido province feels they have to steal a shipment of gold in order to pay their taxes and survive, and they kill the local fishermen so there aren’t any witnesses. They feel it’s a necessary sacrifice for the greater good.
Three years later the ronin Magobei (Tatsuya Nakadai, YOJIMBO, THE SWORD OF DOOM, RAN) still regrets not trying to stop the slaughter. His brother-in-law Tatewaki (Tetsuro Tanba, THREE OUTLAW SAMURAI, RIKI-OH), the guy in charge, vowed to never do it again. But when assassins come to kill Magobei (they fail) he finds out it’s a precursor to another one. Clearly this stolen gold economics is not very sustainable in my opinion.
Magobei’s not gonna make the same mistake he made last time. He’s gotta stop this massacre or die trying. So he puts on his cool hat and starts walking. (read the rest of this shit…)
Although he’d already done HOUSE OF WAX and GOAL II: LIVING THE DREAM, it was ORPHAN that brought director Jaume Collet-Serra to my attention. I gotta admire a director whose movie I go to thinking I’m gonna be all ironical on it and then it defeats me with its audacity and genuine cleverness. So far that’s the height of his output, but I keep going back.
I guess I’d be watching them anyway, because his ORPHAN follow up has been three Liam Neeson vehicles in a row. UNKNOWN was a somewhat forgettable twisty thriller with some good touches here and there. Apparently I forgot to even post a review of it, but the part I remember liking best was some awkwardness between Neeson and Diane Kruger where they laugh because they’re in her small apartment and hear sex noises from next door, and that turns out to be set-up that her walls are thin enough for him to throw a guy through. NON-STOP was more my speed, a fun take on a confined-location-high-concept with some pretty interesting political subtext. Now the third one, RUN ALL NIGHT, takes the collaboration in a different direction. There’s less emphasis on the thrillery gimmicks and more on the character drama.
Oh, hey, this might explain it: it’s a screenplay by Brad Ingelsby, the guy that wrote OUT OF THE FURNACE. That’s another movie that uses badass genre elements but is more interested in exploring relationships than in satisfying expectations. (Though this one does have shootouts and car crashes.) (read the rest of this shit…)
LE DERNIER COMBAT (or THE FINAL BATTLE) is Luc Besson’s first feature, and apparently he was pretty different in 1983. This is a black and white post-apocalypse movie and in contrast to all the international co-production action vehicles he’s been writing with Robert Mark Kamen for so many years it’s very much not high concept. It has no hook.
It also has no talking. I’m not sure if whatever ended civilization as we know it also removed everyone’s ability to speak, or if just nobody in this story bothers to ever do it. But this is one Besson movie where you can’t say the dialogue is bad.
It mostly follows “The Man” (Pierre Jolivet, also co-writer and producer and a prolific director in his own right), sort of a goofball taking shelter from the post-apocalypse in an office building with not too bad of a set up. He has a plant, some furniture, an oven, a cassette deck, a mattress, plenty of space if he ever wants to take up tai chi or breakdancing or anything like that. It’s pretty dusty in there, though. The movie opens panning through his living space and there’s some kind of panting you can hear and you see his naked legs and then you see that he’s humping an inflatable sex doll. Not exactly an iconic entrance like Mad Max or somebody. (read the rest of this shit…)
Isaac Florentine’s first feature DESERT KICKBOXER is not a remake of KICKBOXER that takes place in a more arid climate. It’s also not DESSERT KICKBOXER. That would be weird, and I’m not sure what it would be about. No, this one is just a story about a kickboxer who lives in the desert. Actually I doubt he even considers himself a kickboxer anymore. In a hazy, dreamlike prologue he kills a man in the ring. If this was KICKBOXER he’d be the bad guy, and his dead opponent’s brother would come after him for revenge. Since it’s not, he feels bad about it and is a loner living in his deceased father’s trailer in the middle of nowhere.
His name is Hawk, and I bet you can guess what that means. Yep, he’s that archetype “The Half Breed,” like Billy Jack, or Elvis in FLAMING STAR, or Bronson in CHINO, or the Daywalker. He has all of the white man’s strengths, none of his weaknesses. But he never quite fits in either world. He’s never fully accepted on the reservation, probly called racist slurs by some white people, impressive to others because of his exotic wisdom. And as far as I know the actor playing him is a white guy. He’s John Haymes Newton, best known for playing Superboy in the late ’80s TV series of the same name.
When we first meet Hawk he’s some sort of deputized border guard badass beating up drug smugglers, but he’s pissed when he finds out it’s just pot they’re smuggling, and tells the sheriff – an old colleague of his dad, of course – that he’s not doing this shit anymore. Pretty progressive. (read the rest of this shit…)
Everyone please send some extra special good vibes in the direction of our friend Clubside Chris, the Technical Expert (see photo) of outlawvern.com. I’ve learned from social media that he’s in the hospital. It sounds like he’s gonna be okay, but he’s going through a huge ordeal and hopefully it won’t embarrass him if I take this opportunity to show some appreciation for all that he’s done for me.
If you don’t know the story, Clubside Chris is the guy who years ago decided to register outlawvern.com and give it to me because he couldn’t stand to see my important academic works sitting on a shitty Geocities sight. I actually turned him down because I had some notion about creating profound works that only the truly enlightened would be able to read because they would overlook that it looked like crap and was on a free sight that normal humans abandoned like 10 years earlier. A couple years after his kind offer my crappy sight went kaput and I contacted him (convinced he was offended that I turned him down before) and he was generous enough to help me out.
At my weirdo request he went through alot of trouble to create a WordPress template that would mimic the crappy look of my Geocities sight. And when I got sick of that (and after it possibly gave one poor guy a seizure) he made this nicer looking one we use today. He also made a forum after you guys kept requesting it. So Paul and alot of spambots owe him gratitude for that.
Chris is also the guy who convinced me to start posting my links on Twitter and Facebook. I thought the whole idea of Twitter was ridiculous, but he convinced me to give it a fair shot, and… whoops. Sometimes when I’m procrastinating from writing I wish I wasn’t so addicted to it, but it has really helped me to bring in more readers and stay in touch with people and stuff.
Chris continues to keep the sight operating and answer my ignorant questions when I have them. The most insane part of all is that he’s done it all for free, in fact at a loss. It’s incredible how much he’s done for me and for everyone who likes to read my reviews and for the community here. I also sometimes get the impression my politics can be offensive to him, and yet he’s never ditched me over it. He is a good guy. Thank you Chris.
Walter Hill’s HARD TIMES could almost be a western or a samurai movie, but it happens to be a bareknuckle brawler movie instead. In fact I think it’s the template for my beloved sub-genre of the underground fight circuit movie. Charles Bronson as a guy named Chaney wanders into town (New Orleans circa 1933) on the back of a train. He’s so broke he can’t afford a coffee refill, but he sees a bunch of guys going into a warehouse across the street and he decides to follow them in. Turns out they’re there to gamble on a bare knuckle fight.
Did Chaney know that’s what was going on? Did he come here looking for it? Is this his vocation? Or does he just happen to notice this is going on and need the work? That would be pretty lucky for him, since he happens to be really fuckin good at it. But this is Charles Bronson we’re talking about. I’m sure he’d be the best at whatever manly job was available.
We don’t know what his deal is, but he approaches Speed (James Coburn), the manager of the losing fighter, and convinces him to get him a fight. Speed has no faith in him, but he’s got nothing to lose because Chaney has a little wad of life savings to put up the bet himself. There’s a big buildup as everyone scoffs at him and then, as in so many of this genre later on (BLOOD AND BONE, NEVER BACK DOWN, DIGGSTOWN, ONG-BAK, LIONHEART, UNLEASHED [suggest others in the comments and I will add them to the list, I know there’s a million of ’em]), he K.O.s the guy in one blow. (read the rest of this shit…)
Akira Kurosawa’s directorial debut SANSHIRO SUGATA, a.k.a. JUDO SAGA, is the judo saga of Sanshiro Sugata (Susumu Fujita, MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA). When we first meet Sanshiro he’s a stranger wandering into town, but he’s not a badass like our friend in YOJIMBO. He’s wide-eyed and naive and looking for a jujitsu teacher. Some locals point him to the nearby school of the instructor Momma (Yoshio Kosugi, 47 SAMURAI) where they’re sitting around complaining about their rival “Yano of the Shudokan” (Denjiro Okochi), who’s been calling jujitsu “judo” and getting alot of attention for it. I imagine they feel about this kind of like I felt when I first heard the word “blog,” or like we as a society feel when some ad tries to convince us that pizza can just be called “‘za.”
They’re worried this word-coiner Yano is gonna get the gig they want instructing the police force, so they’re gonna ambush him tonight to “teach him a lesson,” and they let the new kid Sanshiro come along to see how fucking awesome these guys are that he’s about to learn from.
They surprise Yano on the dock and one by one they run at him and get tossed into the water. This being a night scene in black and white it’s really striking and sometimes looks like he’s tossing them into a black void. Once he’s gotten Momma into an armlock and made him beg to be killed to hide his shame of being defeated by a scoundrel, Sanshiro is like “You know what, maybe this Yano would have a better curriculum” and next thing you know he’s pulling the guy’s rickshaw back to his school. (read the rest of this shit…)
If you count TV movies – and I do – JERICHO MILE is Michael Mann’s directivational debut. It’s not as cinematic as his later big, wide movies, but it’s from the days when TV movies were legit enough to play theatrically overseas. It also stood out from other TV at the time, winning Emmies for writing, lead actor (over Kurt Russell in ELVIS!) and film editing for a limited series or special, and a Director’s Guild Award for “Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Special/Movies for TV/Actuality.” (?)
It’s a prison movie, and you know Mann isn’t gonna want to soften that up. I mean, it’s TV so we don’t get any profanity, racial slurs or rape, but it’s still got a gritty feel because it was filmed in Folsom with the real inmates all around, and plenty of establishing montages that are clearly just documentary footage. You can definitely tell that some of the supporting players are real cons. I wasn’t surprised when I read that Mann had to negotiate for each of the race gangs (white, black and Latin) to have representatives on screen and vow to prevent any race wars or riots during filming so the production wouldn’t be kicked out. I mean obviously it’s an unwritten rule on pretty much all movie sets that the actors should not be involved in any race wars. But I still give them credit for not having one. Apparently there were a bunch of stabbings, one fatal, but those were allowed. (read the rest of this shit…)
Talk about a revenge story! Yuki, a.k.a. Lady Snowblood (Meiko Kaji from the FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION series), has been raised from birth specifically for vengeance. Nothing else. No coloring, no jump rope, just “let’s get you ready to track down some people and chop them the fuck up.” It all started when four scumbags (three men, one woman) attacked a couple, killing the man and raping the woman. When the woman later killed one of the attackers she was put in jail, where she died giving birth to Yuki.
As an adult, Snowblood actually remembers being born in jail. Then a teacher trained her in swordsmanship and fighting and a lady named Auntie taught her to be a pickpocket. She’s like Batman, travelling around to different teachers, mastering different skills, but she will avenge her parents’ death not by fighting crime (DEATH WISH) but by killing the actual perpetrators (DEATH WISH II).
When we first meet her she’s tracked one down, approaches with an umbrella, attacks the guy’s caravan and slices them up. Then she goes to a tribal leader guy who likes her because she once did some killing for them. He agrees to use his people to track all the names on her wish list so she can cross them off. (read the rest of this shit…)
In the opening of LADY DRAGON, Kathy Galagher (Cynthia Rothrock) arrives late to her underground fight. The crowd goes silent from cheering on her opponent when she enters in silhouette, a mysterious figure of intimidation in a pointy druid hood, carrying a gym bag, her footsteps echoing like Walker in POINT BLANK. She stands with her back to the camera as she pulls off the hood, then spins around to reveal her face.
It seems like we’re supposed to spit out our Pepsi when we see that it’s a girl. What, did they not know we knew we were renting a Cynthia Rothrock vehicle?
Director/story-provider David Worth (this was his followup to KICKBOXER) gives her lots of cool entrances like that and different outfits, sometimes masculine (a black leisure suit), sometimes the opposite (lots of glittery dresses). She’s trying to track the white arms dealer in Indonesia who killed her CIA agent husband. We learn all this only after special guest star Robert Ginty (THE EXTERMINATOR), who was watching her fight from behind shades and a cigarette, finds her at a bar and tries to bring her back into “the Company.” She says no and tells him to “have a nice day.” He says “Yeah, you too.” (read the rest of this shit…)