Black Eye

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1974

Warner Bros.

Directed by Jack Arnold

Produced by Pat Rooney

Written by Mark Haggard

Based on the novel “Murder on the Wild Side” by Jeff Jacks

One can be forgiven for passing up on watching BLACK EYE, thinking it just another typical Blaxploitation action thriller due to the title and because it stars Blaxploitation Icon Fred Williamson. In that case one would be making a mistake. I myself ended up watching it because Turner Classic Movies “Underground” was airing a Fred Williamson double feature: BLACK EYE and “Boss Nigger” (review to follow soon)

About a half-hour into the movie I was firmly hooked and landed because I quickly realized it’s not a Blaxploitation movie at all. And by that I mean that it doesn’t have the usual elements one expects to find in a Blaxploitation movie. It doesn’t have the Three P’s: Pushers, Pimps and Prostitutes. It doesn’t have anybody Stickin’ It To, Bringin’ It To or Takin’ It To The Man. It’s not set in the ghetto or the projects. BLACK EYE is a straight-up Raymond Chandler inspired private eye movie. It just so happens that in this one, our private eye is black.

Fred Williamson is Shep Stone, ex-L.A.P.D. detective. He was kicked off the force two years ago after almost killing a drug dealer who sold his sister a bad bundle of dope that she O.D’ed on. Since then Stone has been working as an unlicensed P.I. His office is his neighborhood bar where he drinks his breakfast, lunch and dinner of straight double shots of bourbon. Most of his cases are thrown his way by his ex-partner Bowen (Richard X. Slattery) who pays Stone out of the petty cash Bowen would normally use to pay off informants.

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Stone’s prostitute neighbor attends the funeral of a 1930s Hollywood movie star and steals his antique silver-headed walking cane. That same night she turns up dead and Stone appoints himself to find out who killed her because as he says to Bowen; “Maybe she didn’t amount to much but she didn’t deserve that.” Stone takes another case as well. He accepts the job to find a missing girl who has run away to join a religious cult. At first Stone is reluctant but at the urging of her distraught father (Richard Anderson) he agrees to find her. The longer Stone works the two cases the more he gradually comes to realize that they’re actually two burning ends of the same candle. By the time it’s over, Stone has come into contact with Mob assassins, phony psychic mediums, porno film directors and a heroin smuggling operation. There’s a half million dollars worth of smack up for grabs and everybody wants it. Stone understands that. What he doesn’t understand is why everybody who comes into contact with that cane dies in very brutal, bloody ways.

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He’s also struggling to work out his complicated relationship with his girlfriend Cynthia (Teresa Graves) who is not only sleeping with Stone but with a woman, Francis (Rosemary Forsyth). The movie is aware enough to explore the possibility that Stone is not so much threatened by the sexual aspect of the relationship between the two women but that Francis is wealthy and can provide so much more for Cynthia than Stone can. This is brought out in a couple of scenes where Stone goes to see Cynthia and they actually sit down and talk about this situation and the two of them develop a respect for each other. This is not the Fred Williamson we usually see in movies. The Fred Williamson I’m used to would simply have talked the two women into a threesome and lived happily ever after.

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And besides the Chandler-flavored plot, the Fred Williamson performance is the main selling point of BLACK EYE because this is a Fred Williamson who is most definitely playing against his usual movie image. We’re used to a smooth-talking, cool as ice Fred Williamson, living high and fine and dressing his ass off in the best threads money can buy. Not in this movie, baby. Fred goes through the entire movie wearing the same rumpled suit. He lives in a shitty apartment that you need a shot of penicillin just to go into. Shep Stone isn’t a fast-talking womanizer. He’s a plain spoken man who sincerely cares about Cynthia and wants to make their relationship work. In other movies Fred Williamson beats up two or three guys at a time without breaking a sweat and never losing the cigar stuck in his mouth. Not in this movie, baby. Fred takes on one guy at a time and barely wins those fights. And if more than one guy comes at him, he tucks his tail between his legs and runs as if his ass were on fire. It’s too bad this movie wasn’t a success because as played by Fred Williamson Shep Stone is an interesting enough character that he could easily have appeared in more than one movie.

The movie’s also worth watching for the spectacularly gorgeous Teresa Graves as this was one of the only three movies she ever made. She and Fred have great chemistry together and their scenes together are really nicely acted and given the topic of discussion (her bi-sexuality) refreshingly mature.

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It’s a professionally made movie, well-acted by all parties concerned with a plot just complicated enough that you can’t figure it out ahead of Stone but not so complicated that you’ll get frustrated trying to follow it. BLACK EYE is nowhere near the level of say, “The Big Sleep” “Farewell, My Lovely” or “The Long Goodbye” but it is an entertainingly honest attempt to follow in the tradition and flavor of those classic private eye movies. Don’t take it too seriously and enjoy that atypical, off-beat, against type Fred Williamson performance and I think you’ll have just as good a time watching it as I did.

98 Minutes

Rated PG

Hell Or High Water

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2016

Sidney Kimmel Entertainment/OddLot Entertainment/CBS Films Lionsgate

Directed by David Mackenzie

Produced by Sidney Kimmel/Peter Berg/Gigi Pritzker

Written by Taylor Sheridan

Don’t let the fact that the bank robbers, the lawmen and the posse in HELL OR HIGH WATER pack semi-automatic handguns instead of six shooters or that they drive supercharged pickup trucks instead of riding horses trick you. It’s very much a Western. And as its set in West Texas it’s got Texas Rangers. And far as I’m concerned, any movie that has Texas Rangers in it qualifies as a Western. End of discussion.

The Howard brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) go on what at first looks like a spur-of-the-moment bank robbing spree. Nothing could be further from the truth. Toby has a meticulous plan in mind that he insists has to be followed to the letter if the brothers are going to accomplish their goal. Their mother has died recently, leaving their ranch in debt.  Due to a reverse mortgage, the bank will foreclose on their ranch in a week. Oil has recently been discovered on the land and Toby’s plan is to pay it off and give the ranch, land and oil to his sons.

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The plan involves robbing the very bank that holds their mortgage and using their own money to pay them. In order to avoid the dye packs hidden in stacks of banknotes the brothers only take the loose bills. This means that they’ll have to hit all seven branches of the bank in order to get enough money to pay the bank off. Once they hit a couple of branches they drive to Oklahoma to lauder the money at an Indian casino. This allows them to not only exchange the money for untraceable bills but gives them a plausible reason for how they acquired the money.

There are two things wrong with this scheme: a pair of Texas Rangers. Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is a few weeks away from retirement and not looking forward to it a bit. Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) is his long suffering partner who endures Hamilton’s good-natured racist ribbing of his Native American/Mexican heritage with a weary stoicism no doubt cultivated from years of working with the man. They catch the case and begin a quietly methodical pursuit of the bank robbers.

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Despite Toby’s insistence that they follow the plan and that nobody gets hurt, Tanner takes more and more increasingly risky chances and his violent streak, nurtured by a ten year bid in the joint begins to take over. And Toby begins to wonder if he can keep his brother on a short enough leash to keep somebody from getting killed until this is all over.

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The exceptional thing about HELL OR HIGH WATER is how quickly it gets you on the side of the Howard brothers. Yeah, they’re bank robbers but they’re robbing banks. And who really likes banks, right? I liked how the movie spends a considerable amount of time letting us just hang out with the brothers as they sit on the porch of their ranch, drinking beer and talking or eating breakfast in a diner. I loved one scene in particular where the brothers are just horsing around, wrestling and chasing each other and for a brief moment you can see the innocent, carefree boys that they were long ago.

The movie holds down the sermonizing on the state of financial institutions and their relationship with Americans but it manages to make its point. The people who live in this movie are people who have no illusions about The American Dream. There are a couple of monologues delivered by a waitress (Katy Mixon) and by Alberto that sums up pretty much the state of affairs that defines their world. They’re short scenes but powerful ones. And director David Mackenzie has a couple of scenes, including one involving customers at a bank branch, all who are armed, forming into an impromptu posse that I’m convinced are statements on American gun culture.

Chris Pine long ago proved in movies such as “Unstoppable” “Horrible Bosses 2” and “Into The Woods” that he doesn’t have to worry about a career after he’s done with “Star Trek.” Toby Howard, despite the fact that he’s been straight as an arrow all his life, turns out to be a far better criminal than his brother. Pine works at creating a character here and he pulls it off. Don’t look for any traces of James T. Kirk here. You won’t find it. Ben Foster provides most of the movie’s humor and is a refreshingly unpredictable element. We’re watching Tanner intensely because just like Toby, we don’t know what he’s going to do next and we don’t want to miss a second of whatever this lunatic decides to do.

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Jeff Bridges is terrific as usual. When has Jeff Bridges not been terrific? He’s been so good for so long that I think there’s a tendency to take him for granted. The scenes between him and Gil Birmingham is a sort of mirror of the relationship between Tanner and Toby. These Texas Rangers have worked together for so long that in a very real way they’re brothers themselves.

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Should you see HELL OR HIGH WATER? Absolutely. It’s a Western. It’s a Crime Thriller. It’s a Heist Movie. And joining all these genres together is meticulous characterization and solid social commentary that makes it point without beating you over the head. Beautifully photographed and wonderfully acted, HELL OR HIGH WATER is one of the best movies of the year.

102 Minutes

Rated R

 

Electra Glide In Blue

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United Artists/MGM

1973

Directed by James William Guercio

Produced by James William Guercio/Rupert Hitzig

Screenplay by Robert Boris

Story by Robert Boris/Rupert Hitzig

You ever see a movie that you watched more than once simply because you can’t figure out if you like it or not? That’s how I feel about ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE. I’ve seen it maybe four or five times over the years. Most recently on the MGM HD Movie Channel after about five years and I’m still as conflicted now as I was the previous times I’ve seen it. And I honestly don’t know why. I like the performances and the story. The cinematography by Conrad Hall is gorgeous. Most of the movie was filmed in Monument Valley where John Ford filmed most of his classic westerns. Director James William Guercio (who was also producer of the band Chicago) calls the movie a modern Western, which is fine by me ‘cause I like Westerns.

It’s one of those movies where a murder kick starts the plot but nobody actually seems very concerned about solving the murder. In the end, Robert Blake’s character figures out who the killer is not through any really brilliant or clever detective work on his part. There just simply aren’t any other suspects. And I suppose my dissatisfaction with the movie is with that ending. 1970s movies were big on nihilistic, downbeat endings that I suppose were meant to symbolize the chaotic futility of life and the meaninglessness of human existence. I dunno. I don’t get that deep. All I know is that I didn’t feel that the Robert Blake character deserved his fate. And maybe that is the point of the movie: that we don’t always get the fate we deserve or want.

Arizona motorcycle police officer John Wintergreen (Robert Blake) is anxious to get off his motorcycle and get transferred to Homicide. As he tells his more easy going partner Zipper (Billy “Green” Bush) being a detective means he gets to wear a suit and having a detective’s badge means that he works a job where he gets to think. Zipper is more than happy to goof off sitting in the shade, reading comic books and harassing the occasional hippie just minding his business driving his psychedelic VW minibus.

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Wintergreen’s big chance comes along when an old desert rat named Willie (the great Elisha Cook, Jr.) reports a suicide. Even though the coroner (Royal Dano) corroborates this, Wintergreen isn’t so sure. The dead man committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a shotgun and Wintergreen maintains that a true suicide would have blown his head off cleanly instead of lingering for hours in pain bleeding to death. Wintergreen is backed up by local legend Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan). Poole is the kind of Homicide detective Wintergreen fantasizes about being. Poole is a larger then life presence. Cool and confident, he always wears suits that look brand new, a ten gallon cowboy hat and smokes expensive cigars while seeming to effortlessly solve murders.

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He is overjoyed when Poole, impressed with Wintergreen’s thinking, has Wintergreen transferred to Homicide making him his partner on the case. Now, the case itself really isn’t that hard to work. The complications come from outside the case. Wintergreen and Poole discover that they’re sleeping with the same woman (Jeannine Riley) and Wintergreen has an unshakeable moral center. Earlier in the movie we’ve seen him give a speeding ticket to a Los Angeles detective who is outraged that Wintergreen won’t show him “professional courtesy.” This moral center works against him when dealing with the hippies he and Poole encounter during their investigation as Wintergreen sees no reason why they shouldn’t be treated just like everybody else while Poole treats them like shit because he has a badge and a gun and they don’t.

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Add to that the $5,000 the murder victim had in his shack that disappears and the murder case very quickly gets tangled up in issues that have nothing to do with the case at all. And John Wintergreen quickly learns that getting what you think you want most sometimes doesn’t make you happy at all.

You watch Robert Blake in this and “In Cold Blood” and you realize that he actually is a very gifted actor. He also enjoyed one of the longest careers in Hollywood. He was one of the “Little Rascals” and pretty much worked steadily in film and TV until the late 1990’s, most notably in David Lynch’s “Lost Highway.” ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE is more of a character study than a straight-up murder mystery and Wintergreen is an interesting guy. Despite his height (“Did you know that me and Alan Ladd are the same height? Right down to the quarter inch.”) he’s quite the ladies man. There’s a terrific scene where Jeannine Riley as the deliciously slutty Jolene enrages Poole with her drunken bragging about Wintergreen’s sexual stamina.

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Mitchell Ryan turns in a terrifically solid performance as Poole who starts off being worshipped by Wintergreen and ends up being despised by him as the longer Wintergreen works with him the more he sees the man behind the curtain and he doesn’t like that man at all. Billy “Green” Bush is quirky and eccentric as the laid back Zipper who displays an unexpected mean streak when dealing with members of the counter culture.

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If you’ve never seen ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, it’s well worth your time. It’s an episodic, meandering movie but well made with quirky, watchable performances. Like I said earlier, don’t into it looking for your standard murder mystery. It’s more concerned with examining a police officer whose moral code separates him not only from the counter culture but also from his fellow police officers. It’s a meditative movie that works its money maker off to be more than just a standard cop thriller and it’s an excellent showcase of Robert Blake’s talent as an actor. Enjoy.

114 Minutes

Rated PG

Pray For Death

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1985

Transworld Entertainment

Directed by Gordon Hessler

Produced by Don Van Atta

Written by James Booth

Sho Kosugi made PRAY FOR DEATH after the popular and successful “Ninja Trilogy” he did for Cannon Films: “Enter The Ninja” “Revenge of The Ninja” and “Ninja III: The Domination.” And if you don’t mind taking some advice, I’d suggest you also watch PRAY FOR DEATH after watching the “Ninja Trilogy.” Or better yet, watch it before the trilogy. Not because it’s a bad movie. It’s actually quite good, in fact. But the movies in the “Ninja Trilogy” are designed to be Saturday afternoon chop-socky action adventures with plenty of outrageous action and goofy plot twists. They’re light entertainment, nothing more. PRAY FOR DEATH is a much darker film, a movie about the dreams of an immigrant family turned into a nightmare. There’s a wide streak of sadism infesting the movie and except for one scene the violence isn’t played for fun. For the most part this is a bloody revenge story and the ending doesn’t shrug off the tragedy that befalls this Japanese family.

Akira Saito’s (Sho Kosugi) wife Aiko (Donna Kei Benz) desperately wants to return to America where she was born and raise their two sons Tekeshi (Kane Sosugi) and Tomoya (Shane Kosugi) there. Akira is somewhat reluctant but he’s just been told that he has to wait three years for a promotion that he really wanted and he doesn’t want to wait. He and his wife agree to start their own business in Los Angeles.

Akira has another reason for wanting to leave. His family doesn’t know that he’s a ninja and for years he’s been living with the guilt of killing his own brother who tried to steal gold from the ninja temple where they were trained. Akira wants to put his ninja life behind him and thinks that a fresh new life in a fresh new country will do the trick. The Saitos go to L.A. and purchase a restaurant from widower Sam Green (Parley Baer). The boys busy themselves acclimating themselves to American life while Akira and Aiko renovate the restaurant. They’re so busy that they have no idea that the abandoned cigar store next door is used by a pair of crooked cops for their dirty work. They’re supposed to hide the priceless Van Adda necklace there but one of the cops decides to double-cross his boss Mr. Newman (Michael Constantine) and keep the necklace for himself.

Newman’s viciously psychotic enforcer, Limehouse Willie (James Booth, who also wrote the script) goes to pick up the necklace and finding it gone, sees Sam Green and his packed up car and makes the incorrect assumption that Sam must have taken it. Now, it must be said that even though Limehouse Willie’s job all throughout this movie is to recover the necklace he honestly doesn’t seem all that interested in doing his job. He much would rather beat people to death and terrify them. Limehouse Willie, after killing Sam (hell, he just doesn’t kill the poor old bastard. He pounds him to death with a iron pipe, pours gasoline on him and sets him on fire) figures that the Saito family must know where the necklace is and proceeds to raise hell with them.

He kidnaps Tomoyo, breaks Takeshi’s nose, threatens to burn off Tomoyo’s face with a blowtorch, strings up Akira, tortures him by slashing him across the chest with a razor sharp knife and this son of a bitch is just getting started.

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Of course the Saito family doesn’t know anything and of course Limehouse Willie steps up his game until he kills the one person he shouldn’t have killed. That’s when Akira decides it’s time to put and end to this bullshit and once again takes up the way of the ninja to enact his revenge.

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If the events of PRAY FOR DEATH had happened to a Caucasian, native born American family I don’t think the movie would have the resonance that it does. Akira Saito and his family are immigrants who come to American with hopes, plans and dreams and almost from the time they set foot on American soil they’re ill used by almost everybody. Sam Green is virtually the only American who shows them any kindness and he’s killed off rather quickly for his kindness. Saito and his family can’t even walk down the street of their new neighborhood without being physical and verbally assaulted by street toughs. Akira can’t get help from the police to protect his family from Limehouse Willie. And while we know that Akira will eventually resort to using his ninja skills it comes far too late to keep his family whole.

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Understand me that we’re not talking about High Art here. But what we are talking about is a movie where Sho Kosugi makes a sincere effort to tell a solid story about a dangerous man seeking to live a peaceful life according to the laws and values of a new country that holds promise for him and his family. He’s no Steve McQueen but he does a serviceable acting job as both family man and avenging angel of death. For pure fun and kick-ass entertainment check out Sho Kosugi’s “Nina Trilogy.” But if you want to see a decidedly darker side to him, watch PRAY FOR DEATH.

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92 Minutes

Rated R

Lone Wolf McQuade

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1983

Orion Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Directed by Steve Carver

Produced by Yoram Ben-Ami/Steve Carver

Written by H. Kaye Dyal/B.J. Nelson

Music by Francesco De Masi

In “Star Trek” there’s an alternative/parallel dimension called The Mirror Universe. If you’re a good guy in this universe, in The Mirror Universe you’re a bad guy and vice versa. I only mention this in reference to this review because when “Walker, Texas Ranger” premiered on CBS in 2005 I watched it and the thought came to me that Cordell Walker was The Mirror Universe version of our LONE WOLF McQUADE. I mean, there’s no getting around it. The only difference between the two is that Cordell Walker is a much friendlier guy and kills way fewer people than J.J. McQuade. He also talks a lot more. A whole lot more. And if Chuck Norris had been able to pry Lone Wolf McQuade away from Orion Pictures (who owns the character) we might well have had ten seasons of a “Lone Wolf McQuade” TV series. Which wouldn’t have been a bad thing at all. J.J. McQuade is easily good enough of a character that can sustain a TV or movie series. And it’s a shame he didn’t. But we do have this one movie and while I consider “Code of Silence” to be Chuck’s best, it’s this one that is my favorite.

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J.J. McQuade (Chuck Norris) is a highly decorated former Marine and now an even more highly decorated Texas Ranger working out of El Paso. He prefers to work alone, thereby giving rise to his legend as a “lone wolf.” His only companions is his pet wolf, his supercharged Dodge Ramcharger (which has enough personality to qualify as a supporting character in my eyes) and his retired fellow Ranger Dakota (L.Q. Jones). McQuade is divorced, of course. With the exception of Roger Murtaugh no cinematic law officer worth his badge can be happily married with a nurturing home life and still do his job. He lives in a wreck of a trailer in the middle of the desert with the wolf and apparently his sole source of nourishment is beer. Seriously. Watch the movie for yourself and I defy you to find me a scene where McQuade takes so much as single bite of food. He goes into a restaurant and doesn’t ask for an appetizer. He asks for a beer and keep ‘em comin’.

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McQuade’s boss (the always dependable R. G. Armstrong) is determined to make McQuade a team player so he partners him with the green as a Christmas tree rookie State Trooper Arcadio ‘Kayo’ Ramos (Robert Beltran). McQuade has no time for a partner. He’s on the trail of military grade weapons that are in the hands of people who have no business having them and romancing local wealthy socialite Lola Richardson (Barbara Carrera) who he met while Lola rescued McQuade’s daughter Sally (Dana Kimmell) when Sally’s horse ran wild. It’s not easy romancing Lola as her business partner Rawley Wilkes (David Carradine) has his eyes on making her much more than a business partner.

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It isn’t until FBI Special Agent Jackson (Leon Isaac Kennedy) arrives to investigate the hi-jacking of a U.S. Army convoy that Wilkes himself is revealed as being an international arms merchant. He gets his merchandise by hijacking U.S. Army shipments. The stakes are upped considerably by a couple of brutal deaths and the kidnapping of McQuade’s daughter which leads to an ultimate showdown between The Lone Wolf Lawman and The Mad Dog Criminal.

Hey, don’t blame me. That’s how it was billed on the movie poster. Go on back up to the top of this review and read it for yourself if you don’t believe it. The showdown between Norris and Carradine was hyped as the reason to come see the movie during it’s original theatrical run. It’s kind of a gyp, though, as Carradine had it written into his contract that his character could not be beaten in hand-to-hand combat by Norris’ character. The movie does a good job of teasing us all through the movie until we get to that showdown, having Norris and Carradine bump heads a couple of times just enough to bark and bite at each other before they finally throw down.

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But until we get there, just sit back, relax and have fun. LONE WOLF McQUADE is an extremely well made modern day version of those classic Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s and 1970s. It lets you know that right from the beginning with the opening credits. Look at the font of the letters and how the credits glide across the screen. Listen to the music which sounds like left-over microwaved Ennio Morricone. Francesco De Masi, who indeed scored many Spaghetti Westerns before Morricone started his career composed the movie film score. Supposedly De Masi swiped much of Morricone’s score from “Once Upon A Time In The West” for this one. While I think that’s stretching it, I can hear a lot of Morricone in the score and that only adds to the enjoyment of the mayhem.

Norris allows himself to be a little more brutal, a little grungier, a little surlier than he does in most of his other movies. J.J. McQuade has no problem getting as down and dirty as the bad guys and as a result this gives McQuade a little harder edge than your usual Chuck Norris hero. I also like how McQuade’s stylized way of dressing and wearing his nickel-plated S&W Model 29/.44 Magnum gives him the aspect of a superhero. He must have at least two dozen Calvary Bib shirts (the kind with the flap on front) that he wears during the course of the movie, all different primary colors. And he never wears the same one twice.

L.Q. Jones is just as dependable as R.G. Armstrong (he should be…they’ve been in just about the same amount of westerns…a lot of them as co-stars) and he’s got a terrific rapport with Norris. And speaking of which; the pairing of Chuck Norris with Barbara Carrera should not work as well as it does. Only in an 80’s Action Movie would those two be put together as a romantic couple but damn if they don’t make it work. They even make rolling around in a mud puddle while making passionate love seem plausible. And only Barbara Carrera could make gathering her skirt to sit down on a bed sexier than any other woman  doing a full-blown strip-tease.

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Surprisingly enough, I got to give Robert Beltran some applause here. Despite this being one of his earliest roles he’s more fun and far more interesting to watch in the 1 hour and 47 minute running time of LONE WOLF McQUADE than he was in seven years of “Star Trek: Voyager.” As for David Carradine…well, what can be said about him? Give him a good guy to play and he’s kinda lost. Give him an oddball antihero, societal outsider or straight-up Bad Guy to work with and he’s nothing less than magic. If there’s any major problem with LONE WOLF McQUADE is that they don’t have enough screen time together. As for Leon Isaac Kennedy…to be honest, outside of the “Penitentiary” movies he’s never really turned my crank and his role here could have been played by anyone. Not that he’s a bad actor, mind you but when you can’t even steal a scene from Chuck Norris maybe it’s time for you to reconsider your career.

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So should you see LONE WOLF McQUADE? What, you mean you haven’t seen it? Philistine. It’s just about what I consider a damn near perfect Action Movie. Even more than that…it’s a damn near perfect Chuck Norris Action Movie. The screenplay is nothing but Plot and relies upon the actors to provide The Story. What do I mean by that? Just this: Plot Is What Happens. Story Is Who It Happens To. And thanks to a very talented cast that knows how to fill in Plot with Story, LONE WOLF McQUADE is more than worth your time if you’re looking for solid entertainment for a Friday or Saturday movie night at home. People who don’t know anything about Chuck Norris and ask me where to begin I always tell them; start with LONE WOLF McQUADE.

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1 hr 47 minutes

Rated PG

 

 

Enter The Ninja

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1981

Cannon Films/MGM/UA

Directed by Menahem Golan

Produced by Yoram Globus & Menahem Golan

Written by Dick Desmond/Story by Mike Stone

I can hear some wise ass in the back saying; “If this is the first movie in the Ninja Trilogy then why are you reviewing it last, Ferguson?” Because even though this is indeed the first of Cannon’s so called “Ninja Trilogy” which includes “Revenge of The Ninja” and “Ninja III: The Domination” it really doesn’t matter in which order you watch them. The only thing they have in common is that they’re about ninjas and Sho Kosugi is in all of them. But he plays very different characters in all three and “Revenge of The Ninja” is the only one where he has a starring role. He’s pretty much regulated to supporting roles in the other two. Such as here in ENTER THE NINJA where we see him at the beginning of the movie just long enough to establish that he doesn’t like Our Hero. He then disappears until near the end when the movie’s real Big Bad hires him to kill the hero.

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We meet Cole (Franco Nero) in Japan when he has completed his training to become a ninja. We also meet Hasegawa (Sho Kosugi) who has also studied ninjutsu alongside Cole but bitterly resents Cole being given full ninja status. It’s never really clarified as to why Hasegawa doesn’t like Cole. We get some gobbledygook from Cole’s teacher that Hasegawa is just cranky because he wasn’t born during the golden age of the samurai but since we only see Hasegawa for the first five minutes of the movie I guess the writer didn’t want to waste the time on the characterization.

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Cole goes to visit his old war buddy Frank Landers (Alex Courtney) who owns a large farm in The Philippines. Along with his wife Mary-Ann (Susan George) and the native workers, Frank is struggling to keep his land. The enormously wealthy Charles Venarius (Christopher George…no relation to Susan) wants to buy it for reasons unbeknownst to them. Once Cole starts thwarting the army of hired goons Venarius hires to run the Landers off he does some snooping. He discovers that there a vast oil deposit under Frank’s land. Cole attempts to help the Landers keep their land is complicated by his increasing affection for Mary-Ann. An affection that is reciprocated due to Mary-Ann’s dissatisfaction with Frank’s heavy drinking and Cole discovering that his old war chum is no longer the man he once fought alongside. And if that wasn’t enough, Venarius hires Hasegawa to kill Cole and the Landers. We’re not talking a deep, heavy movie with a lot of plot here but it’s enough to get things moving and keep it moving.

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In fact, once the whole thing about the Landers having oil on their land was introduced, it hit me what ENTER THE NINJA was. It’s a modern day Western set in The Philippines instead of The Wild West. Sure it is. If the writer had included the Landers having a kid who worships Cole, the movie would have practically been a remake of “Shane.” Instead of six shooters and Winchesters we’ve got martial arts and ninja swords. There’s even a Walter Brennan type of cantankerous old geezer who throws in with the Landers and Cole and helps them out.

Franco Nero wasn’t the original choice to play Cole. He knew nothing about martial arts and his Italian accept was too pronounced for him to convincingly play an American. His voice was dubbed and Mike Stone, a martial artist and stuntman who wrote the initial story and screenplay as a starring vehicle for himself, performed his stunts and fight scenes. Due to his lack of experience, he didn’t get to play Cole. I’m sure that Franco Nero’s previous film success had a lot to do with that as well. It probably was a lot easier to sell a movie called ENTER THE NINJA with Franco Nero as the star than Mike Stone (You can just hear the distributors asking “Mike Who?”)

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That’s not to say that Nero doesn’t acquit himself well. He’s an extraordinarily likeable actor who knows what he’s doing in front of the camera. While he and Sho Kosugi never have enough screen time to come across as legitimate enemies, his scenes with Susan George and Alex Courtney have enough weight that we buy into it. I really like how the screenplays allows for time for Cole to show how he’s truly upset and saddened at the state his friend is in emotionally and psychologically. But he’s got no other way to help him other than by going out and beating the piss outta the goons trying to steal his land.

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Susan George makes for some nice eye candy and I liked how her character isn’t afraid to grab a shotgun and start blasting away at whoever comes to threaten her man or her land. While I prefer Christopher George as a good guy (remember him from “The Rat Patrol”?) he’s obviously having a great time playing a villain for a change. He swings for the fences to make Venarius a minor league Bond-style villain and I think he pulls it off very well, giving Venarius enough eccentricities and ambiguous sexuality that I wanted to know more about this guy. I like how he and all of his henchmen wear white suits all of the time. Half the budget for this flick must have been spent on white suits, in fact. That’s how many of them there are.

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I only wish the fight/action scenes had some more…well, action to them. Oh, they’re satisfying, don’t get me wrong. But after watching the outrageous fight scenes in “Revenge of The Ninja” and “Ninja III: The Domination” the fights here come off as slower and more pedestrian. It doesn’t help that you can tell when it’s Nero and not Stone in the fight scenes as Nero fights like a barroom brawler and not a martial artist.

Still, it makes for an entertaining time waster. My suggestion is that you sandwich ENTER THE NINJA in between “Revenge of The Ninja” and “Ninja III: The Domination” ENTER THE NINJA doesn’t have the over-the-top fight scenes or downright goofiness of those other two but I recommend it for the acting, the modern day Western plot and the characterizations.

109 Minutes

Rated R

 

 

Ninja III: The Domination

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1984

Cannon Films/MGM/UA

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Produced by Yoram Globus & Menahem Golan

Written by James R. Silke

What’s the one thing movie fans can unite behind no matter their race, religion or film preference? Remakes. Mention to movie fans that there’s going to be a remake of a beloved movie and stand back. Such a wailing and gnashing of teeth you have never heard in your life. I’ve actually seen with my own eyes people get more upset at the news that a favorite movie of theirs is being remade than at the news of a family member’s death.

What I’ve never quite understood is why movie fans get so upset about remakes when they happen all the time in the theater and theater fans just take it in stride and go on with their lives. You’ll see that every five years or so there’s a new production of “West Side Story” or “Camelot” or “Oklahoma” and theater fans greet it with joy and anticipation.

But I think I have a solution to the problem. Why not remake movies that were flops and failures the first time around and take another crack at bringing to fruition the promise that they showed? And I’ve got my first candidate NINJA III: THE DOMINATION.

Not that it isn’t a whole lotta goofy fun just the way it is. NINJA III: THE DOMINATION has a lot of the elements I love about 1980s movies, up to and including the obvious fact that nobody associated with the production gave a damn about how silly and ridiculous the plot was. I’ve read that Sho Kosugi wasn’t happy with the movie at all and argued strenuously against mixing martial arts with demonic possession. But the results are so jaw-droppingly batshit insane I’m glad that he didn’t get his way. As a result we get a movie that joyfully and wonderfully embraces its weirdness and doesn’t bother one little bit to be embarrassed about it. It’s the kind of movie where you either go with it or leave it alone.

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The Black Ninja (David Chung) comes to an unnamed American city on a mission of assassination. He’s there to kill a scientist. Why? What for? Who hired him? These questions are never answered. The poor bastard is simply a living MacGuffin to get the plot going. The Black Ninja kills the scientist, his wife and/or girlfriend and his four bodyguards while the scientist is playing golf in less time than it took me to describe. He’s surprised by golf course security who call the cops and that takes us into the first but not the last of the many batshit insane action sequences of the movie.

The Black Ninja outruns cops who are on foot, on motorcycles and in cars but there’s too many of them for him to elude and he strikes back, displaying a nice range of ninja weapons while doing so. And I liked the fact that he didn’t simply slice up cops with his sword. He takes them out using his blowgun, throwing stars, blinding powder, chain and sickle, etc. This cat takes out about a hundred cops and even brings down a police helicopter before going down in a hail of gunfire. The cops think he’s dead, get closer and then believe it or not, The Black Ninja jumps up and proceeds to hack and slash to death about a hundred more cops. Having finally gotten sick of this shit, the police do the only sensible thing and form a circle around The Black Ninja then shotgun him to death. Even then this resourceful bastard still gets away by throwing a smoke bomb and seemingly disappears.

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The Black Ninja stumbles on telephone linewoman/aerobics instructor Christie (Lucinda Dickey) and gives her his sword before finally dying. Turns out that The Black Ninja put his spirit inside the sword which in turns possesses Christie and uses her to get revenge on the police officers that killed him. The situation is complicated by Christie’s flowering romance with Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett) one of the cops who killed The Black Ninja. He becomes increasing more and more curious about Christie’s unexplained disappearances which seem to happen just around the same time his fellow officers are being murdered one by one. That’s when our boy Sho Kosugi comes flying in from Japan. He’s got a long standing blood feud with The Black Ninja and he’s quite aware that even death cannot stop his evil. It isn’t long before he and Billy have teamed up to try and save Christie’s soul from the demonic possession of The Black Ninja and defeat him once and for all.

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Where do I begin trying to describe why I like this movie so much? Should I start with the scene where our old friend James Hong as a Shinto priest attempts to exorcise the spirit of The Black Ninja from Christie? Or the scene where the spirit of The Black Ninja, which has apparently taken up residence inside of Christie’s arcade video game machine takes control of her with smoke, laser beams, and neon strobe lighting? Or the love scene where Christie pours V8 all over her neck and chest and invites Billy to lick it off?

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The idea of a movie that’s a mash-up of two very popular movie fads at that time: martial arts and demonic possession isn’t a bad one and I think that maybe the reason it flopped at the box office was because there wasn’t enough of either one to satisfy fans of either genre. Sho Kosugi himself doesn’t show up until halfway though the movie and even then he stays mostly in the background until the final showdown with The Black Ninja whose demonic spirit has revived his body in true zombie style.

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The movie belongs to Lucinda Dickey who played Kelly aka Special K in the cult masterpiece “Breakin’” And it’s a shame she never again starred in an action movie because she acquits herself very well indeed. Supposedly she got the role based solely on the fact that due to her training as a dancer she was athletic enough to do many of her own stunts. It helps that Lucinda Dickey is nuclear hot and has enough personality and screen presence to make up for any acting deficiencies. The camera absolutely loves her and she just as obviously loves it back.

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And thanks be for that as there’s not much else in the way of acting to brag about here. Sho Kosugi isn’t exactly Peter O’Toole but then again, he didn’t have to be. He knew exactly what his role in a movie of this type is and he fulfills that role adequately. Jordan Bennett as Officer Secord comes off as being too much on the uncomfortable side of stalker-ish for my taste. Even by 1980s standards.

As I said earlier, NINJA III: THE DOMINATION is one of those movies that you just have to make up your mind before you start watching that you’re just going to go along for the ride. And if you do, I think you’ll have just as good a time as I did with it. If you’re so inclined, go no further than the YouTube link below and enjoy.

90 Minutes

Rated R