"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Posts Tagged ‘underground fighting’

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…)

Cage II

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

One of many underground fighting movies I took a look at in my action movies of summer ’89 retrospective was CAGE, a cheapie starring Lou Ferrigno and Reb Brown as Billy and Scott, two Vietnam buddies forced into a cage fighting circuit. It was enjoyable for its cast, its warm-hearted tribute to friendship, and even its naive-feeling sincerity about the uncomfortable premise that Billy acts like a child because of a brain injury. And I got even more entertainment reading about director Lang Elliott’s later business ventures, including taking over a smoothie chain in a failed attempt to produce a Dorf feature film and build a theme park.

In 1994 Elliott returned with a sequel, so far his final directorial work. CAGE II (subtitled THE ARENA OF DEATH on the VHS packaging) reintroduces Billy and Scott while they’re out grocery shopping. Their negotiations about whether or not Billy is allowed to buy a blue soft drink are intercut with ominous shots of a gang of long haired bad guys in sunglasses and black trenchcoats walking toward the store. And it lays it on thick how much innocence this evil is about to collide with. Billy and Scott smile at a little boy. Two women invite Scott to a party. Before that, while they’re giving him the eye, two smiling children skip by, holding hands! (read the rest of this shit…)

Kickboxer (and the conclusion of The Last Summer of ’80s Action)

Wednesday, August 7th, 2019

As with LETHAL WEAPON 2 and ROAD HOUSE, KICKBOXER is a classic that I’ve already reviewed, and I stand by what I wrote about it the first time. But I thought it might be worth revisiting 11 years later, after also writing about its sequels, remake and remake sequel, and in the context of these other ’89 movies. It hit some European countries in April and August of that year, and the U.S. on September 8th, making it a good closer to THE LAST SUMMER OF ’80S ACTION.

Earlier in the series we had fighting circuit movies from an old Disney live action director (FIST FIGHTER), the World Wrestling Federation (NO HOLDS BARRED), and a guy that did Dorf movies (CAGE). Not surprisingly it was Cannon Films that gave us the season’s slickest version of the form, building off the success of BLOODSPORT (1988) for an in my opinion even better vehicle for shiny new splits-doer Jean-Claude Van Damme. I mean that literally, by the way – in the climax the camera really focuses on the reflectiveness of his muscles as an illustration of how ready he is to triumph. (read the rest of this shit…)

Thunderground

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

I thought I had only one more movie to cover in The Last Summer of ’80s Action, but then I realized I’d forgotten about THUNDERGROUND. Like one of the first movies in the series, FIST FIGHTER, this is a WWF-wrestler-featuring bare knuckle brawler movie that I never heard of until david j. moore told me about it a while back and I ordered a VHS copy. It’s pretty much straight to video, but IMDb claims it got a release in Minnesota on September 1, 1989. Good enough excuse to squeeze yet another underground fighting movie in here.

It opens in “HOBO JUNCTION, TENNESSEE, 1989,” where a crowd of hobos gather around a campfire and a kid named Casey, who rips them off in Three-Card Monty (a strange game – the only winning move is not to play). Casey’s hat makes this look so Depression Era I honestly rewound to make sure I read that year right. Yep, it says ’89 all right, but it’s obviously inspired by period pieces. It’s about people who ride the rails and pull petty hustles just to get a little bit of money to get to the next town. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cage

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019

“Wrestling? I like wrestling. But I don’t like fighting. But I like wrestling!”

Note: Box Office Mojo only lists “1988” as the release date, but IMDb says September 1, 1989. I’m going with the specific one.

The movie CAGE is alot like the character Lou Ferrigno plays in it: brain damaged, childlike, clumsy, well-meaning, and hard not to like. The opening definitely had me concerned, though. In “VIET NAM 1969,” a bunch of army dudes run around in a field screaming and firing machine guns while the keyboards of composer Michael Wetherwax (SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE) sort of imitate the RAMBO theme. B-movies about the Vietnam War don’t tend to be watchable, in my opinion, so thank God our boys get out of there quick.

Escaping in a helicopter, Billy Thomas (Ferrigno, between his last two Incredible Hulk TV movies) heroically saves his friend Scott Monroe (Reb Brown, UNCOMMON VALOR, ten years after his last Captain America TV movie) by having the strength to one-arm-dangle him under the copter even after being shot in the head with what, judging from the leak it springs in his temple, appears to be an adorably tiny bullet.

(Good makeup effect, though.)

The opening credits are a comically corny rehabilitation montage set to a ballad called “Don’t Let Go” by Jennifer Green. Without sound, Ferrigno and Brown pantomime a series of struggles and minor triumphs, from getting a medal to being frustrated with a puzzle to making it up a few steps. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fist Fighter

Thursday, June 13th, 2019

When people think of the summer of ’89, it’s possible that the first thing that comes to mind is not the movie FIST FIGHTER. And when they think of the movie FIST FIGHTER, it’s possible that the first thing that comes to mind is not I am aware of a movie that exists that’s called FIST FIGHTER. Yes, this is an obscure one. IMDb says it was released on May 12th (the week when Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There For You” overtook Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” as the #1 single) and doesn’t list it as a video premiere, but it has no box office data, and it doesn’t register on the Box Office Mojo charts. It has only come out on VHS and laserdisc, and not even Scarecrow Video had it last time I checked. But I bought myself a copy a while back after asking david j. moore the best movies he discovered while working on The Good, the Tough and the Deadly, and fortuitously saved it to review until now.

Our hero is a handsome, muscular man with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair, which I greatly respect. Both times I’ve watched I forgot where I knew this actor from – he’s Jorge Rivero (credited as George Rivero), the star of that Lucio Fulci barbarian movie I liked, CONQUEST. He worked primarily in Mexican films from the ’60s until as recently as 2014, but was also in Howard Hawks’ RIO LOBO with his hero John Wayne, THE LAST HARD MEN with Charlton Heston and James Coburn, and a couple English-language ’90s b-movies like this one. Here his stoicism and dry humor remind me a little of Chuck Norris when he’s playing one of his nicer, less arrogant characters. A big good looking guy who genuinely wants no trouble, wouldn’t try to steal your girl or strut around wearing sunglasses. (read the rest of this shit…)

Boyka: Undisputed

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

Note: the Blu-Ray cover calls it BOYKA: UNDISPUTED 4, but you know the rules – I go by what it says onscreen in the actual movie, which is simply BOYKA: UNDISPUTED.

 

Fuck prison fighting circuits. Time for some undisputedness on the outside – doing a flying spinning double kick while breathing the fresh air of freedom, or at least freedomishness. International martial arts superstar Scott Adkins returns to his signature role of Yuri Boyka, defeated villain of UNDISPUTED II who won an international prison fighting tournament in part III and got away at the end. Remember? The first time we ever saw him smile or laugh.

Now we find that new Boyka, the one who has experienced smiling before, in the Ukraine, openly fighting in an underground MMA outfit. The filthy prisoners chanting his name have been replaced by gambler bros in leather jackets. I don’t think it matters to him, because in the now noticeably bigger ring he is alive. I don’t know what kind of new camera/lens/rig they’re using, but it shows him better than ever, putting you in the ring, floating around him, under him, gliding over you like a supernatural force.

When he’s not grouchy he’s broody, because he doesn’t consider the slate clean. He’s still very religious, and feels a duty to donate most of his earnings to his church. The father disapproves of his “violence” and questions whether he can seek salvation while still fighting. But Boyka says “I think God gave me this gift. And I think it would be a sin to waste it.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Ring of Steel

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

RING OF STEEL is a classical underground fighting circuit movie from 1994, and it has many familiar elements: a hero who needs work after accidentally killing an opponent in a legitimate match, a mysterious, clearly untrustworthy stranger who leads him into the temptation of a high stakes fight club, rich people betting, the slow roll-out of death matches after the hero is already in too deep, a jealous and possessive-of-women rival, police snooping around, a girlfriend who ends up being used as collateral to make him fight the big match, all that type of stuff. But it has one unique element that gives the whole enterprise a novel flavor and personality: the fights are sword fights.

The hero is a disgraced fencing champion. Given a choice of weapons, he picks some kind of 17th century musketeer deal to go up against knights and samurai and shit. And some of the score by Jeff Beal (IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL, BLACKFISH, WEINER, HE WAS A QUIET MAN) would work for a Roger Corman sword and sorcery movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kickboxer: Vengeance

Monday, September 5th, 2016

tn_kickboxervengeanceIn this age of reboots one thing I didn’t see coming was a respectful attempt to resurrect the magic of KICKBOXER. Produced by Cannon when Jean-Claude Van Damme was still a new star, the original is a seminal film in the foundation of the western-star martial arts movie. Part of the beauty of the era it helped ignite was its disposability; there was such a hunger for this stuff on VHS that they kept churning out KICKBOXERs and BLOODSPORTs and BLOODFISTs with whatever Next Jean-Claude Van Damme they could get. And the combination of these basic story formulas and the appeal of seeing thick-accented martial artists try to act cool between flying kicks made for many enjoyable evenings for people all around the world.

Things have changed. Far fewer straight up action movies are made than in the ’80s and ’90s, and viewing them is not as common of a ritual for young people growing up. The fringe market of DTV has mostly shifted to VOD, a riskier business model since people actually have to watch the movies for them to make money. So, weirdly, this new KICKBOXER (released to VOD on Friday) was made with care, in hopes of people liking it. You can tell they’re genuinely trying to recapture what was fun about those movies, but in a modern context – by which I only mean it has nice digital cinematography of sunny Thailand and many of the opponents are played by famous UFC fighters. (read the rest of this shit…)

Beyond the Ring

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

tn_beyondtheringBEYOND THE RING is an amateurish underground fighting drama allegedly based on a true story and starring the Brazilian Taekwondo Grandmaster Andre Lima as himself. Depending on what parts of it are true it’s a deeply personal story and/or a weird vanity project.

In the movie Andre is a Taekwondo instructor (at one of his actual L.A. area schools it looks like), a widower and single father of teenage son Joseph (Joseph Nerlinger) and pre-teen daughter Jessica (Aycka Lima). He stopped competitive fighting after his wife’s death and gets real stubborn when his brother-in-law Patrick (Martin the bad guy in KARATE KID Kove) comes around trying to make sure he’s taking care of the family well and what not.

The hook is that one day Andre finds out his daughter has a brain tumor, and his insurance doesn’t cover her surgery, so he ends up taking an underground fight against a guy called Zulu (Justice Smith, BLOOD AND BONE, THOR) to try to raise the money. My assumption was that real life Lima really had a sick daughter and maybe did some kind of tournament fighting to pay for the surgery, not an illegal thing like this, but I’ve found some biographies of him online and none of them mention his family life at all. I guess this is one of those unverifiable martial arts tall tales, like how BLOODSPORT is supposed to be based on a real guy called Frank Dux who claims to have taken part in a real Kumite. But if the guy’s daughter (who I believe is playing herself in the movie?) didn’t really get sick that would be an unethical truth-stretching in my opinion. (read the rest of this shit…)