"I'll just get my gear."

Archive for September, 2019

American Gigolo

Monday, September 30th, 2019

AMERICAN GIGOLO. Paul Schrader’s prequel to AMERICAN PIMP. Older brother of AMERICAN PSYCHO. Cousin to AMERICAN NINJA. Quite a family of movies there.

I really should see more of Paul Schrader’s stuff. Obviously I respect him for writing TAXI DRIVER and revere him for writing ROLLING THUNDER. I remember loving BLUE COLLAR. MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS was incredible. More recently FIRST REFORMED really impressed me. But there are some very famous ones I haven’t seen. This one, I gotta admit, I ignorantly assumed wasn’t my thing. Some Richard Gere movie. Who cares?

It was getting more into movie soundtracks on vinyl that turned me around. AMERICAN GIGOLO is a pretty common, relatively inexpensive find, so I picked one up, and really liked it. Then I figured okay, I should see where these sounds come from.

Young, slim, squinty-eyed dreamboat Richard Gere (a little after DAYS OF HEAVEN, a little before AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, way before FIRST KNIGHT) stars as Julian Kaye, L.A. gigolo. In his business there’s alot of ambiguously talking around things on account of the illegality. Lots of not stating what’s going on, or denying it – saying “you’ve heard wrong” or “you’re mistaken” when someone’s too direct or seems like trouble. So it’s interesting that he ends up suspected of a murder he didn’t do. We’re not sure at first if they really did hear wrong, really are mistaken, or if he’s just doing his usual shtick. (read the rest of this shit…)

Patreon bonus: RAMBO: THE FORCE OF FREEDOM

Saturday, September 28th, 2019

As John J. Rambo may or may not have shed his last blood on cinema screens, perhaps it’s a good time to remember him in all his glory when he had been pardoned by the president and was free to hang out with his pals like Turbo and Touchdown, fighting mostly non-lethal battles with the mercenaries, bikers and cyborgs of the S.A.V.A.G.E. terrorist organization. That’s why I watched and wrote about “First Strike,” the first episode of the 1986 cartoon series Rambo: The Force of Freedom.

MAY THE FORCE OF FREEDOM BE WITH YOU

As always, thanks to everyone who has been able to support the Patreon. That extra monthly check has improved both my life and my writing by allowing me to work fewer shifts of the day job and focus on the good shit here. I hope the quality of the reviews here as well as the bonuses over there like the TWILIGHT series help to express my gratitude.

The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

“I make the impossible possible. Takami Tsurugi. Remember that if you want to live long.”

The thrilling conclusion to Sonny Chiba’s STREET FIGHTER trilogy is called THE STREET FIGHTER’S LAST REVENGE, but it doesn’t really feel like a finale. It feels more like another in what should be an endless series of adventures. Though released in 1974, the same year as the other two, Chiba’s black-clad anti-hero-for-hire Tsurugi seems to have evolved his operation. After taking a recruitment call he rotates the phone attached to his wall, opening a secret door to a room full of uniforms, wigs and latex masks. He’s a fuckin master of disguise now!

His mission is to retrieve Go Owada (Akira Shioji, who played a different character in the first movie) from the midst of a violent worker strike at a chemical plant. Tsurugi impersonates a member of the riot squad and breaks ranks to bust through the window, go in and beat the shit out of everybody, steal a specified black mah jong case, arrest Owada, steal a police car and bring him to the mobsters who hired him.

But they pay him with a briefcase full of shredded newspaper, which was not the deal in my opinion, so he fights them and they’re enemies now. (read the rest of this shit…)

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…)

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

“Listen, I got nothin’ against playin’ army. I don’t mind that at all. I think the ideology of some of these folks is good. But there’s assholes everywhere…” –Steven Seagal as Dr. Wesley MacLaren in THE PATRIOT (1998)

I knew exactly three things about THE STANDOFF AT SPARROW CREEK: it was supposed to be potentially controversial for having something to do with a militia, people loved it at Fantastic Fest last year, and it was produced by Cinestate. Because of the last one it was often mentioned in articles alongside the works of S. Craig Zahler, portrayed as daring independent films that are super fuckin edgy because they blur the line between “regular movie” and “movie that all neo-Nazis own on blu-ray.”

That’s probly why I put off watching it until now. But there really wasn’t much to be afraid of. Realistically we can assume that these characters who have dozens of AR-15s, grenades, Kevlar vests and shit stashed in a warehouse are right wing extremists, because they have dozens of AR-15s, grenades, Kevlar vests and shit stashed in a warehouse. But it’s not about that. The closest thing to a political view ever discussed is that some of them believe in killing cops. The two characters that are portrayed as potentially honorable are an undercover cop trying to bust the militia and a former cop trying to save the undercover cop. Race is never discussed, other than one guy being former Aryan Brotherhood (which is portrayed as a stain on his record). It’s really just a novel way to do a “flushing out the mole” type suspense story.  (read the rest of this shit…)

Rambo: Last Blood

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

You remember Rambo, John J. Vietnam vet, Green Beret, POW camp survivor, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. In ’81, as a homeless drifter, he waged a one-man guerrilla war against the police department of Hope, Washington, wounding several officers, killing police dogs, blowing up buildings and causing one officer to die from falling out of a helicopter. But they let him out of prison for a secret POW rescue mission. Though he earned a presidential pardon, he decided to live in Thailand, living off odd jobs such as stickfighter, temple-builder, snake-catcher or river guide, with occasional missions to help the Mujahideen in Afghanistan or rescue missionaries in Myanmar. But eventually he came home to his dad’s place in Arizona.

It doesn’t seem like it, but that movie was 11 years ago. Rambo has short hair now, wears cowboy hats and runs his (now deceased) dad’s horse ranch. He lives with a woman named Maria (Adriana Barraza, AMORES PERROS, DRAG ME TO HELL), who I guess the photos on the wall indicate was his parents’ maid, and her granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal from the El Rey show Matador), who calls him Uncle John and who he says he thinks of as his daughter. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Brink

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

I first paid attention to Max Zhang (aka Zhang Jin) because of the modern classic KILL ZONE 2 (SPL 2). He played the villain’s #1 henchman, a daintily dressed psycho with a fighting style like whirling scalpels. But I’ve come to know him more as a dreamy long-haired brooder like his character in IP MAN 3, who was spun off into the hero of MASTER Z: IP MAN LEGACY. And that’s closer to Sai Gau, the rule-breaking cop character he plays in the, uh, aquatic police thriller THE BRINK (2017).

He’s introduced just going fuckin berserk in a one-man raid on a… penthouse crackhouse? It’s some sort of trashed drug den with broken windows high enough for him to throw people out of and have them destroy the police cars they land on. Psychedelically lit with primary colored lights and with a questionable amount of electric guitars on the soundtrack, he spins and kicks and chops through crowds of criminals. Not all of them survive. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cutthroat Island

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

It took me nearly a quarter of a century to get around to giving CUTTHROAT ISLAND (1995) a shot. Certified by the Guinness Book as the biggest financial bomb of all time, it got poor reviews, bankrupted Carolco Pictures (FIRST BLOOD, T2) before it even came out, diverted director Renny Harlin (following DIE HARD 2 and CLIFFHANGER) from the A-list and failed to create momentum for its revolutionary notion of giving a woman the lead role and top billing on a big budget summer adventure.

But I had reason to be suspicious of its reputation. Many of Harlin’s ‘90s movies, particularly his also-starring-Geena-Davis followup THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, deserve more credit than they got at the time. And there’s definitely precedent for mob mentality panning of movies that have been heavily covered as over budget, out of control productions. This had the additional gossip-bait of the star and director being married to each other, causing mean-spirited speculation that one was only hired because of the other one’s clout. (For example, an informative 1996 Independent article about what went wrong manages to refer to them as “Renny Harlin and his demanding wife.”) On top of all that, you know how it is with what I call the Old Timey Adventure genre. They almost always lose money, even when they’re great. That’s just how it is. (read the rest of this shit…)

Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

As much as I enjoyed the first two Detective Dee pictures (MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME and RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON), the third one, DETECTIVE DEE: THE FOUR HEAVENLY KINGS, far surpasses them. It has the same kind of fun characters and storytelling, but the FX and design are much improved, it has more action and spectacle, and it’s more packed full of weird factions and creatures with cool costumes and gimmicky weapons, often elegantly gliding around on wires. It’s a total blast.

They’ve dropped the “Young” from the title, even though it’s continuing the prequel story starring Mark Chao. I guess the moment he gets his rank and trademark weapon he becomes a man. That’s where it starts: the end of RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON, with our hero receiving the Dragon-Taming Mace and the duty to keep the imperial court in check, at which point Empress Wu (Carina Lau, PROJECT A PART II, the only actor in all three movies) conspires to have the mace stolen from him. This is one thing I love in period martial arts movies: when a specific weapon is treated with reverence, even though it’s just a piece of metal, not some doomsday device. There turns out to be a really good explanation for why she needs to get it away from him, but it wouldn’t matter to me if there wasn’t. All I need is that it’s a legendary badass weapon like the Green Destiny Sword, so they can’t let him have it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon

Monday, September 16th, 2019

Before Regular Age Detective Dee, it only stands to reason, there was Young Detective Dee. Three years after Tsui Hark’s crowd-pleasing supernatural action mystery blockbuster DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME he recast with Mark Chao (THE WARRIOR’S GATE) in place of Andy Lau and gave us a case from early in his career: YOUNG DETECTIVE DEE: RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON.

As the title implies, it starts with some kinda kraken. I have too much respect for you to make a pun out of that. But you can imagine one. Something attacks the Chinese navy, they think it’s a sea monster, so obviously

1) they’re gonna sacrifice Yin Ruiji (Angelababy, INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE) to the monster and

2) Empress Wu (returning Carina Lau, SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT) threatens to execute Yuchi (Feng Shaofeng, THE MONKEY KING 2 and 3) if he doesn’t figure out who attacked the fleet in ten days. Kind of a tough boss. (read the rest of this shit…)