Thursday, June 2nd, 2016
AMERICAN NINJA 5 is the explosive finale to the AMERICAN NINJA saga, by which I mean it’s an unrelated movie starring David Bradley that they retitled. At least that’s my assumption since he’s named Joe in this one instead of Sean. I could easily accept this character as Sean Davidson, who he played in parts 3 and 4, but they call him the other name so they must not have had that in mind while filming. He also opens the movie training with Tadashi “Bronson Lee” Yamashita, who played the Black Star Ninja in part 1, but this time Yamashita is credited as playing himself.
And I guess they must’ve decided that the title was misleading enough that they didn’t have to have a totally unrelated subtitle like all the other sequels. Something like AMERICAN NINJA 5: GAUNTLET OF FIRE or AMERICAN NINJA 5: IRON CLAW JUSTICE.
By the time this came out in 1993, ninjas were a subject of parody and kiddie fare. In the same year, the older brother of AMERICAN NINJA 5’s young star starred in SURF NINJAS with Rob Schneider and Leslie Nielsen. So this is a PG-13, sometimes jokey movie. Bradley has to take care of his master’s grand-nephew Hiro (introducing Lee Reyes). Also, his master, Master Tetsu, is played by Pat Morita, four years after THE KARATE KID III and the KARATE KID cartoon, one year before THE NEXT KARATE KID. Not very Cannonical. But it does have many elements of an AMERICAN NINJA movie: a scheming evil scientist, an army of multi-colored ninjas with one more visually distinguished lead ninja (with a snake-themed name, even), a kidnapping, sneaking into a foreign land, sneaking into a compound, getting jailed, doing a ninja hand signal meditation thing, child ninjitsu training montage, suppressed memories of childhood ninjitsu training. (read the rest of this shit…)
Tags: Aharon Ipale, Anne Dupont, Clement von Franckenstein, David Bradley, James Lew, Lee Reyes, Marc Fiorini, Pat Morita, Tadashi Yamashita
Posted in Action, Martial Arts, Reviews | 10 Comments »
Wednesday, June 1st, 2016
LOVE ON THE RUN is a part 5 where everything comes together: Antoine’s early estrangement from his parents, the patterns of his failed relationships, the risks of putting his personal life (and therefore the people he knows’ personal lives) in his so-called fiction. In the opening we see him with a new girlfriend, Sabine (children’s singer and cartoon show host Dorothée), who he seems to be screwing it up with already. He obviously hurts her by cancelling their plans, without explaining why, but it’s to finalize his divorce with Christine (parts 3-4). So we get to see her again, and then OH SHIT, part 2 co-star Collette (Marie-France Pisier, also one of the screenwriters) happens to see him, finds out about his book, and reads it. And later he sees her and wants to talk to her again.
I’m not saying it’s FAST FIVE good, but it has a similar quality of uniting characters and threads from across the series and putting them into a story that’s in some ways more exciting and satisfying than previous entries. It also made me think of the fourth PHANTASM because of its liberal use of footage from when the actors were younger, though in PHANTASM it’s unused footage and here it’s almost like a clip show episode of a TV show. They keep bringing up things that happened in the past and then there’ll be a short clip from the movie where it happened. (Since this was pre-home video it was reasonable to expect that even if viewers had seen all the other ones it had been only once a long time ago.)
It’s also a little like ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO because in the midst of these flashbacks there are also flashbacks to things that happened between the last movie and this one, as if it’s clips from another sequel we never saw where they moved in with Christine’s lesbian friend. And of course bringing Collette and Christine together for a scene at the end is kinda like when Michael Dudikoff and David Bradley met up in AMERICAN NINJA 4. (read the rest of this shit…)
Tags: Antoine Doinel, Claude Jade, Dorothee, Francois Truffaut, French New Wave, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Marie-France Pisier
Posted in Drama, Reviews | 9 Comments »
Tuesday, May 31st, 2016
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…)
Tags: David Bradley, Dwayne Alexandre, James Booth, Jody Abrahams, Michael Dudikoff, Ron Smezarack
Posted in Action, Martial Arts, Reviews | 27 Comments »
Monday, May 30th, 2016
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…)
Tags: Francois Truffaut, French New Wave, Mademoiselle Hiroko
Posted in Drama, Reviews | 7 Comments »
Thursday, May 26th, 2016
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…)
Posted in Action, Martial Arts, Reviews | 12 Comments »
Tuesday, May 24th, 2016
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…)
Tags: Claude Jade, Delphine Seyrig, Francois Truffaut, French New Wave, Jean-Pierre Leaud
Posted in Drama, Reviews | 8 Comments »
Thursday, May 19th, 2016
“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 if 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…)
Tags: Cannon Films, Gary Conway, Jeff Weston, Jonathan Pienaar, Michael Dudikoff, Michelle Botes, Mike Stone, ninjas, Ralph Draper, Sam Firstenberg, Steve James
Posted in Action, Martial Arts, Reviews | 19 Comments »
Wednesday, May 18th, 2016
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…)
Tags: Francois Truffaut, French New Wave, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Marie-France Pisier, Patrick Auffay
Posted in Drama, Reviews | 6 Comments »
Tuesday, May 17th, 2016
“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…)
Tags: Cannon Films, Don Stewart, John Fujioka, Judie Aronson, Michael Dudikoff, ninjas, Sam Firstenberg, Steve James, Tadashi Yamashita, white ninjas
Posted in Action, Martial Arts, Reviews | 17 Comments »
Monday, May 16th, 2016
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…)
Tags: Albert Remy, Antoine Doinel, Claire Maurier, Francois Truffaut, French, French New Wave, Guy Decomble, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Patrick Auffay
Posted in Drama, Reviews | 10 Comments »