Long before the FAST AND FURIOUS series did it (better), the AMERICAN NINJA series pulled the power move of doing a part 3 with a new lead, only to combine the casts in a later sequel. AMERICAN NINJA 4: THE ANNIHILATION starts with part 3’s Sean Davidson (David Bradley) and later brings back part 1-2’s Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff). The bad news is this is the first one not to include the character of Curtis Jackson (Steve James), so it almost feels like less of a real sequel than part 3.
The dilemma: American servicemen abducted overseas again. Ninja related again. This time it’s worse, because the crazy British Colonel Mulgrew (James Booth, writer of part 2 and AVENGING FORCE and this one) and terrorist Sheik Maksood (Ron Smezarack) plan to burn the four captured Delta Force commandos at the stake and nuke New York City with a suitcase bomb if they aren’t paid $50 million. (It seems like either threat would be enough though, right?) I know that sounds like a boring useless couple of loser villains with nothing to contribute, so fortunately they are also training an army of super ninjas, one of whom wears a silver helmet and mirror eye patch. So they check out. (read the rest of this shit…)
BED & BOARD is Antoine Doinel Part 4: The Married Years. I don’t know how the fuck he did it, but that weasel Antoine got hitched to Christine and they appear to live happily in an apartment in Paris together. He works at a flower stand right outside the building and can hear her giving violin lessons to children upstairs.
While THE 400 BLOWS was groundbreaking for being kinda naturalistic, this one reminds me of modern quirky French movies with their cute little gimmicks and ensemble of different funny characters who poke their head out of windows to get involved in conversations and stuff. Early on there’s a trick where Antoine is soaking the stems of white flowers in red dye, the camera pans up to a guy talking to him and when it comes back the flowers are now bright red. It’s like a simple magic trick. I like it. (read the rest of this shit…)
Well, 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 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.
(read the rest of this shit…)
STOLEN 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…)
Holland 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…)
“That damn American ninja. Fights like a tiger. We’ll have to get rid of him.”
The 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?
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, 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…)
“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 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…)