Revenge of The Ninja

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1983

Cannon Films/MGM/UA

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Produced by Yoram Globus & Menahem Golan

Written by James Silke

He never achieved the same level of popularity that say, Chuck Norris or Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal did. But I’ll bet you next month’s rent that anytime you get aficionados of Martial Arts Movies together to talk about their favorites, Sho Kosugi’s name is going to come up fifteen minutes into the conversation. No, he wasn’t as flashy or flamboyant as some of those other guys but he was good at what he did. He kept his dialog to a minimum and delivered on the action/fight scenes. His major claim to film fame was in what has come to be known as “The Ninja Trilogy.” The movies have absolutely no connection to each other save for one element: Sho Kosugi is in all three, playing different roles. He’s The Big Bad in “Enter The Ninja.” The hero in REVENGE OF THE NINJA and a ninja exorcist in “Ninja III: The Domination.”

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But there is one thing I notice that Sho Kosugi has in common with Norris and Seagal: none of them can run for shit. You think that’s why they got into martial arts in the first place? Because since they couldn’t run they damn well had to learn how to stand their ground and fight?

The movie starts with an extremely brutal scene of slaughter in Japan as members of the family of ninja master Chozen ‘Cho’ Osaki (Sho Kosugi) are wiped out. What makes it even more brutal is that it’s women and children killed by the army of rogue ninjas. I mean, we’ve got women being sliced to pieces with swords and an eight year old kid taken out with a shuriken to the eye. Cho shows up in time to kill about a dozen ninjas but the rest get away. The only surviving members is his baby son Kane (played in later scenes by Sho’s real life son Kane Kosugi) and his mother (Grace Oshita).

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Swearing to give up the life of a ninja, Cho moves his son and mother to America where he opens up an Oriental art gallery at the urging and financial backing of his old friend Braden (Arthur Roberts) Turns out that Braden isn’t such a pal after all. He’s using the gallery as a front for heroin smuggling, hiding the drugs in shipments of handmade Japanese dolls. Braden is stiffed for money that the local mob boss, Chifano (Mario Gallo) was supposed to pay him for the drugs. It’s shortly after this that a ninja assassin wearing a silver demon mask starts killing off Chifano’s men. The police reach out to Cho for assistance but he refuses to help. He does tell them that the way the killings have been done is in ninja style. Which really doesn’t do much for Cho’s credibility since he is the only ninja the police know…

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REVENGE OF THE NINJA is nowhere near being High Art. But it is pure 1980s pulp on film. It’s goofy and doesn’t mind being goofy. It takes itself seriously without being serious, if you know what I mean. The movie starts at eighty miles an hour and doesn’t slow down one little bit. Some of the fight scenes are inspired. Such as Cho’s moms taking on the demon masked ninja in one of the movie’s best fights that will have you rooting for Mama. Kane gets a couple of fight scenes of his own, my favorite being the one where he beats the piss out of a gang of bullies harassing him after school.

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The story isn’t what you would call innovative but I did like how for most of the movie, Cho doesn’t know what the hell is going on and has to piece the mystery together while Braden is in the background, merrily killing away and leaving dead bodies everywhere. But when Cho does indeed discover how’s he been betrayed and who’s behind it, he takes up the way of the ninja and the epic showdown between the two ninjas is a lot of fun. As is the whole movie. No, we’re not talking “Enter The Dragon” or “Black Belt Jones” or “Gymkata” here. But REVENGE OF THE NINJA is a perfectly acceptable Saturday afternoon movie. Do yourself a favor and get all three movies in “The Ninja Trilogy.” If you’re a fan of Martial Arts Movies or of Cannon Films and you’ve never seen these movies, do yourself a favor and check ‘em out. But if you just want to see REVENGE OF THE NINJA, look no further than the YouTube link below.

90 minutes

Rated R

War Dogs

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2016

Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by Todd Phillips

Produced by Mark Gordon/Todd Phillips/Bradley Cooper

Screenplay by Stephen Chin/Todd Phillips/Jason Smilovic

Based on “Arms and The Dudes” by Guy Lawson

Small time arms dealer Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) succulently explains the term ‘War Dog’ to his best friend David Packouz (Miles Teller) in such a way that it sounds extremely simple and lucrative to him. Put simply, ‘War Dogs’ make a profit selling ammunition and guns to whoever needs them and never set foot on the battlefield or get anywhere near the fighting, bombing and killing that is associated with war. David is seriously in need of money. His girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) is pregnant and he’s making $75 an hour as a masseur. Efraim seems like an opportunity that is way too good to pass up when he offers to make David his partner and show him the business. I’m sure that we’re all familiar with the old saying that if it looks too good to be true then it probably is.

WAR DOGS follows the slap-happy adventures of these two 20-something Jewish guys from Florida who got filthy rich on government military contracts. The key to their success? Efraim lays it out for David; they go after the smaller contracts that the bigger contractors don’t bother to look at. But even the small contracts are worth millions and these deals can all be done online. Efraim and David never even have to leave the office. Before you know it, the boys have matching condos in a luxury high-rise, matching Porsches, more money than they know what to do with and have become so successful they have to hire help and incorporate their business.

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As usual in stories such as this, greed begins to take hold and the boys chase after bigger and bigger contracts. They almost get killed running guns in Fallujah (“Hey, we’re gunrunners, bro…let’s go run some guns!”) as things go wrong and it turns out that they do have to get out of the office and out into the field.  Thanks to that job, their reputation blows up and leads to The Afghan Deal and a sketchy partnership with Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper) an Old School arms dealer whose background definitely gives David cause for concern. But The Afghan Deal is too good to turn down. If David and Efraim can pull it off, it’ll put a cool $300 million in their pockets. Where it leads them to is David stuck in Albania, kidnapped by gangsters and threatened with death with Efraim back in Miami, contemplating the best way to cheat David out of his money.

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How does it all end up? If you’ve seen movies like “Pain & Gain” “Scarface” (which WAR DOGS references heavily) “Boiler Room” you can guess with no problem at all how it has to eventually go down. In fact, if you’ve seen “Wolf of Wall Street” then this movie will seem very familiar to you. Just substitute guns for stocks. And Jonah Hill gets to be Leonardo DiCaprio in this movie. I swear he must have it into his contract now that there has to be at least one scene where he snorts coke off a hooker’s butt.

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Hill clearly walks away with this movie from start to finish. He reminded me a lot of Classic Joe Pesci in many of his scenes in that just like Joe Pesci, Hill can go from being charming to funny to coldly psychotic in three seconds flat. I’ve long had the opinion that Hill is better in dramatic roles than he is in straight comedies. He’s funny in his dramas but the humor he brings to a drama enriches the material rather than being an annoying distraction. He knows how make Efraim Diveroli funny without diluting the dangerous qualities of the character.

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Miles Teller is surprisingly good as David Packouz and I’m glad to see he’s continuing to get solid work after that “Fantastic Four” debacle. I think the screenplay bends over backwards to give David a respectable motivation for getting into gunrunning and make him a likeable sucker who just got into something way over his head. Ana de Armas is attractive to look at but unnecessary to the story as the real romance is between Efraim and David. Bradley Cooper pops in and out of the movie in what is a small but pivotal role, especially at the conclusion which ends the movie on just the right tone.

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Based on a true story, WAR DOGS really doesn’t do anything new or groundbreaking. It’s a story we’ve seen many times before in film but when it’s done well we don’t mind watching it. I do think that director Todd Phillips could have gotten a little crazier with the story and characters and sometimes it seems as if he’s trying just a little bit too hard to be Martin Scorsese (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) but his heart is in the right place. WAR DOGS isn’t the movie to save what has been a really dull and boring summer movie season but it’s a movie that knows what it is and what it’s supposed to do and most of the time, that’s good enough for me. Go see it for the performances and the goofy yet plausible story. It’s a solid and professionally crafted two hours of entertainment I recommend highly.

2 hrs.

Rated R

Body And Soul

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1981

Cannon Film Distributors

Directed by George Bowers

Produced by Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan

Written by Leon Isaac Kennedy

Based on the 1947 United Artists film “Body and Soul” directed by Robert Rossen and written by Abraham Polonsky

There’s a scene in the movie “Creed” where Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has agreed to train the son of his best frenemy, the late Apollo Creed to be a boxer. Rocky takes the young man (Michael B. Jordan) and turns him to face a mirror. Rocky points at the young man’s reflection and says; “There’s the toughest opponent you’re ever going to have to face.”

There’s a whole lot of truth in that because most boxing movies (well, the better ones anyway) are actually about a man overcoming his inner conflicts and desires to be a better human being. The boxer he faces in The Big Fight At The End is just a stand-in for his own emotional/psychological conflicts as well as any criminal corruption he’s tempted with along the road to becoming The Champ. And maybe that’s the true appeal of boxing movies…that at the end it comes down to one man stepping into a ring to fight another man, laying it all on the line. Maybe he’s doing it for glory. Maybe he’s doing it for family. Maybe he’s doing it to prove something to himself. But when it’s all done either he’s standing up, arms raised in triumph or he’s flat on his back with cartoon birdies tweeting above his head. Either way, it’s a story with a solid resolution. By the end of the story we know who’s won and who’s lost. I have to admit that as much as I love boxing movies I never really understood the structure of how a boxing story is told until I told one myself.

(Gratuitous Self-Promotion Alert:  Fight Card: Brooklyn Beatdown by Derrick Ferguson writing as Jack Tunney is available from Amazon HERE. We now return you to your regularly scheduled movie review already in progress)

I’ve never seen the 1947 “Body and Soul” that the movie we’re going to talk about is based on but it’s my understanding that it’s the first really great boxing movie. After having seen this movie I’m eager to see the original, which stars John Garfield. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a seriously different film from this one since African-Americans dominated the sport of boxing in 1981 so what we’ve got here due to it’s predominantly black cast fits comfortably in the Blaxploitation genre as well.

The star of BODY AND SOUL, Leon Isaac Kennedy was already familiar with making boxing movies thanks to the surprise hit of 1979, “Penitentiary” a boxing movie set in prison that is definitely a boxing movie you oughta see. Especially since it’s a better movie than this one. He’s Leon Johnson in this one. Although his mother (Kim Hamilton) has worked hard to see to it that Leon has a education and a chance to go to medical school and become a doctor, Leon turns his back on all that. His little sister Kelly (Nikki Swasey) has sickle cell anemia and needs medical treatments now. Leon is a natural fighter and becomes a professional boxer to get money to pay his sister’s medical bills, managed by his best friend Charles (Perry Lang). He’s mentored by none other than The Greatest Himself, Muhammad Ali (Muhammad Ali) who turns Leon over to be trained by Frankie (Michael V. Gazzo. Remember him from “Godfather Part II?”)

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Leon is indeed a success as a boxer but he’s impatient to move up faster and make more money, win bigger purses. So he hits on a gimmick to get more attention from boxing fans and the press and becomes ‘Leon The Lover.’ He hands out roses to the ladies before every fight and is most generous with his kisses. He’d really like to be kissing with sports reporter Julie Winters (Jayne Kennedy who was married to Leon Isaac at the time they made this movie) but she’s wary of getting too involved with him. She’s been around and knows how boxers can get sucked into the dark side of the boxing game.

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You know what comes next, don’t you? Leon gets hooked up with Tony (Gilbert Lewis) and his boss The Big Man (Peter Lawford) who quickly pinpoint the weaknesses of Leon (women) and Charles (drugs) and quickly ensnares them in a downward spiral of moral corruption which leads to Charles suffering a near fatal drug overdose while driving a serious wedge between Leon and Julie.

Although to be totally honest, if a crooked boxing promoter were tempting me with Azizi Johari (who plays a character named…I kid thee not…Pussy Willow) I could see where that downward spiral might not be such a bad thing.

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In order to redeem himself and regain the love and respect of his friends and family, Leon has to dig down deep inside himself and find the man he really is to be able to step into the ring with Ricardo (Al Denavo) a damn near unstoppable combination of near psychotic rage and inexhaustible strength and endurance. Can Leon do it? Can he go the distance and beat Ricardo? Can he win back the love of Julie and the respect of his mother and sister?

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BODY AND SOUL, Leon Isaac Kennedy (right), 1981. ©Cannon Films

If I had to point a finger at the weakness in this movie it would have to be the screenplay. Kennedy himself is a charismatic actor but he’s not a writer and the story is as predictable as a dozen other boxing movies but at least most of those had memorable, quirky characters in them. Most of the characters in here are quite bland and even The Big Man himself doesn’t seem very threatening. At least he never does anything to make you think for a minute that he actually presents a serious threat to Leon or his ambitions.

Perry Lang wins the Who The Hell Let Him In This Movie? Award for BODY AND SOUL. He has a scene where he’s carted away after his near-overdose in a straitjacket that is supposed to be heartbreaking but is just hilarious. Despite the fact that they’re married, Leon Isaac and Jayne really don’t have a lot of chemistry on screen. Hell, Kennedy has more chemistry with the actresses who play hookers he has assignations with (Azizi Johari, Rosanne Katon and Ola Ray) than with Jayne. And isn’t it kinda hypocritical that in his sex scenes with the hookers, they’re nude but in his big love scene with Jayne/Julie the only bare things we see of her is her arms?

But don’t let me dissuade you from seeing BODY AND SOUL. I appreciate a good bad movie as much as any of you and BODY AND SOUL is certainly that. It’s trashy escapism that’s fun to watch on a Saturday afternoon. Take my advice and get hold of the three “Penitentiary” movies as well and make it a Leon Isaac Kennedy afternoon. You won’t be disappointed. But if you just want to see BODY AND SOUL then look no further than YouTube at the link below. Enjoy.

109 minutes

Rated R

 

 

Suicide Squad

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2017

DC Entertainment/Warner Bros./RatPac-Dune Entertainment/Atlas Entertainment

Written and Directed by David Ayer

Produced by Charles Roven/Richard Suckle

Based on characters from DC Comics

Ask me what my favorite comic book of the 1980s was and there’s a better than 90% chance I’ll say “Suicide Squad.” As envisioned by writer John Ostrander, the best and simplest way to describe the concept of the team is “The Dirty Dozen with superpowers.” Created by the ruthless, brilliant and intimidating Amanda Waller, a high ranking government official, Task Force X a.k.a The Suicide Squad members are imprisoned supervillains given a choice. Work for the government by going on missions so dangerous that it’s almost a certainty they’ll be killed. Survive the mission and they get their sentences reduced or even commuted and they walk away free.

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As you can guess by the name of the team, a lot of team members did indeed get killed. The comic book was memorable for it’s characterization and that nobody in the book was safe. You never know who would get killed on a mission. And even if they didn’t get killed on a mission, there was an excellent chance that Amanda Waller herself would kill them if they got the slightest bit out of line or just throw them back into jail to rot.

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That’s the basic set up of the movie version of SUICIDE SQUAD as well. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) meets with The Joint Chiefs of Staff at The Pentagon to get approval for Task Force X. She presents them with her team: the world’s deadliest hit man, Deadshot (Will Smith) pyrokenetic gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez). Half-man/half-reptile Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) ancient sorceress The Enchantress who lives in and occasionally possesses the body of archeologist Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne). Master climber Slipknot (Adam Beach) Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) a thief who uses technologically customized boomerangs in his work and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) who used to be the respected psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel who mistakenly believed she could cure The Joker (Jared Leto) and instead became infected with his madness. She fell in love with him and helped him to escape. Big mistake.

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Once she gets her approval, Waller implants Nano bombs in their necks which can blow their heads off at the push of a button and gives the button to Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) the Army’s most decorated Special Forces officer. He’ll lead the team in the field and his friend/bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara) an expert martial artist and swordswoman will watch his back.

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Although the team’s reason for existing is to take on enemies to American national security, their first mission is to take down one of their own: The Enchantress. She’s taken control of her host body and released the spirit of her brother, The Incubus (Alain Chanoine). Her intention? To build a machine capable of destroying humanity. Why would a magic user, supposedly ages old and possessing near infinite power would want to build a machine? It’s best if you don’t ask. There’s a lot in this movie that will go down a lot smoother if you don’t stop to ask pesky questions like that. But when you think about it, it really doesn’t say much for Amanda’s project if the first mission her team has to go on is to kill their most powerful member, right? Oops, that’s another question. Sorry. I’ll stop bringing logic into this review.

And it’s a good thing that we’re going to stop talking logically because now we have The Joker who really has no logical reason for being in this movie. Oh, he runs around in the background trying to find out where Harley is being kept after Batman (Ben Affleck) captured her and then hijacking a military helicopter to rush to Midway City to rescue her but in truth, what he’s doing here is no more than a glorified cameo. Leto’s pimped-out Joker is not funny, not scary, not intelligent and at best is sleazy. I’m not a fan of Heath Ledger’s Joker but compared to what we have here, it’s Laurence Olivier on his best day. Jai Courtney brings nothing to the role of Captain Boomerang and it’s a continuing source of mystery to me how he continues to get work in such high profile movies. And Adam Beach is way too good an actor to be thrown away in a nothing role like Slipknot. I just hope he got paid really well for it.

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Now before you start to think I didn’t like SUICIDE SQUAD, here are the things I did like: the more I see of Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne, the more I want to see him. The chemistry between the team members is quite good, especially between Deadshot and Harley Quinn. But she gets along with everybody when the voices in her head aren’t telling her to kill everybody. Margot Robbie is flat out terrific as Harley and steals the movie every chance she gets. It helps that she gets most of the funny lines and knows how to deliver them so that we never forget that Harley is batshit insane even while we’re laughing with her. I totally loved Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. This is without a doubt the Amanda Waller straight outta the comic book. You want a clue as to how much I love Amanda Waller? This is how much: she’s a permanent guest on my desk where her intimidating stare reminds me everyday that I better write or else:

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Much has been made of the soundtrack but they’re made up of songs that we’ve heard way too much in movies the past twenty years. I get the impression somebody was going for a “Guardians of The Galaxy” vibe with the music and with the humor. Which for me worked. The problem with “Man of Steel” and “Batman V Superman” was the unrelenting grimness, the doom and gloom pervading both movies from start to finish. Here, the characters are allowed to smile and crack a joke once in awhile.

So should you see SUICIDE SQUAD? Chances are you already have if you’re a DC fan. And that’s a problem with the movie. This is one that’s definitely made for the fans. There’s a lot of characters that are introduced very quickly and with the barest of descriptions. Except for Deadshot and Harley. We get to know quite a bit about them, actually and the scenes with Deadshot and his daughter provide some welcome sweetness before we get into the mayhem and madness.

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I liked David Ayer’s movies a lot and he didn’t disappoint me with SUICIDE SQUAD. It’s the first DC movie they’ve produced that I can honestly say I enjoyed from start to finish. The one thing I insist on in my movie adaptations of my favorite comic books is that the spirit of the comic book be there. And it certainly is in SUICIDE SQUAD. If you read the comic book and loved the series as much as I did, you’ll enjoy the movie. If you’ve never read the comic, you may want to spend some time with Google to get the full background on the characters before going to see the movie. Enjoy.

123 Minutes

Rated PG-13

 

Fire With Fire

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Directed by Duncan Gibbins

Produced by Gary Nardino

Screenplay by Ben Pillips/Warren Skaaren/Paul Boorstin/Sharon Boorstin

People often ask me about my process for writing movie reviews and I beg you indulgence for a few minutes while I outline said process. I assure you that I’ll tie it into this review.

If I see a movie in a theater I’ll usually write a review of it that same day. Mainly because I want to convey the same emotion I felt watching the movie in the theater in that review and if I sit and think about it too long, that will go away. But if I watch a movie at home I intend to review I’ll watch it twice. The first time is strictly for the entertainment value. The second time is for the review and I’ll take notes while watching it. And that brings us to FIRE WITH FIRE. I’m going to share with you the notes I took while watching it the second time for this review:

Jon Polito is skinny as fuck in this movie but he still was bald as a bowling ball on top. Good acting job, tho. But when is Jon Polito not good?

Virginia Madsen had to be all of what, 22, 23 when she made this movie? And even then she had an absolutely astounding head of hair.

Tuvok’s in this movie? Holy shit.

The nuns put together a pretty kickass playlist for the dance. But since the head nun is Jean Smart maybe it’s not very much of a surprise.

Who the hell let D. B. Sweeney in this movie?

Hey, that’s the chick from “Dream Warriors.” Got to look up her name (It’s Penelope Sudrow, btw) She can dance! 

Love that about 1980s movies. No CGI. They actually found a couple of stuntmen crazy enough to jump off that damn cliff.

It’s a shame how much Shakespeare has been shamelessly stolen. If it hadn’t been for “Romeo & Juliet” there’s a whole genre of movies that would never have been created.

I ended with the “Romeo & Juliet” note because that’s what we have here in FIRE WITH FIRE. Joe Fisk (Craig Sheffer) is serving time in a juvenile delinquent facility right down the road from a Catholic girl’s school (and who was the genius planner who thought that was a good idea?). Lisa Taylor (Virginia Madsen) is a student at that girl’s school. She and Joe meet by accident in the woods when she’s working on a photography assignment. She’s floating in a lake in a white dress and Joe immediately falls in love with her as he considers her the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen in his life.

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He desperately wants to see again but as he’s constantly reminded by Jerry (Tim Russ) one of the guards of the facility, he’s only got a few months to go until he’s released and he doesn’t need to jeopardize that. Especially since Mr. Duchard (Jon Polito) the boss of the facility is just looking for a chance to upgrade Joe to the state pen.

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FIRE WITH FIRE, Virginia Madsen, Craig Sheffer, 1986. (c) Paramount Pictures.

The young lovers have a chance to get together when Lisa proposes to Sister Marie (Jean Smart) the head of the school that it might be a good idea for the girl’s school to host a dance with the juvies. This leads to the movie’s goofiest and funniest sequence and one I couldn’t stop laughing at.

Sooner or later raging hormones take over and Joe and Lisa meet for an illicit sexual tryst in a graveyard crypt (yeah, you read that right) and they get busted. Joe decides to go completely off the reservation, steals a car and snatches Lisa from the girls school and they both go on the run. Can Our Young Lovers Find Happiness and Indulge Their True Love or will they be hounded to their inevitable end?

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And actually FIRE WITH FIRE does end on a happier note than most of these “Romeo & Juliet” knockoffs. Take “West Side Story” for instance. Take out the songs and dancing and you’d have a movie so depressing and bleak you’d drink Drano while the end credits are rolling. But even though the main characters of FIRE WITH FIRE don’t work to deserve their happy ending as we’re just supposed to emphasize with them because they’re such such SWEET KIDS! The movie’s story is nothing more than the age old conflict between Youthful Rebellion Against Adult Supervision/Authority. But I went along with it because the movie doesn’t pretend or aspire to be more than what it is: disposable popcorn entertainment and I respect any movie that knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything more than that and does it well. If you’re a fan of Jon Polito and Virginia Madsen and want to see some early work of theirs, I recommend it. It’s not a Must See Movie or even one that I would recommend as a prime example of 1980s cinema but it’s a fun and enjoyable time waster. If you want to see it and you’re not a member of Amazon Prime, do what I did and rent it for 48 hours from YouTube for $2.99. Enjoy.

 PG-13

103 Minutes

 

 

 

ABBA:The Movie

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Directed by Lasse Hallstrom

Produced by Stig Anderson/Reg Grundy

Written by Lasse Hallstrom/Robert Caswell

Music by Stig Anderson/Benny Andersson/Bjorn Ulvaeus

All I got to say is Thank Odin for Turner Classic Movies and their Underground program. For those of who who don’t get TCM via or cable/satellite provider I heartily recommend that you pony up the extra bucks and add it to your package. If you’re a true movie fan you probably already subscribe to TCM and if you don’t then you’re really missing out.

Take TCM Underground for instance. This is a block of cult movies usually but not limited to the horror, science fiction, counterculture, blaxplotation and just plain out and out nutso genres. TCM Underground shows movies that honestly you wouldn’t see anywhere else on any other cable/satellite channel. Seriously. TCM Underground has aired “Darktown Strutters” “Abar, The First Black Superman” “The Apple”(The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made) “Let’s Scare Jessica To Death” “The Baby” “The Manitou” “Miami Connection” “Over The Edge” “Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky” “The Sadist” “Roller Boogie” “Shanks” “Two-Lane Blacktop”…do I really need to go on? TCM Underground airs at 2AM on Saturday Night/Sunday Morning and used to be hosted by Rob Zombie who showed me that whatever else you may say about him, the man has movie chops. Really. The cat knows his movies and not just horror. He knows movies like a monkey knows bananas. Dunno why he stopped being the host as I really miss him but we still have the movies.

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Which brings me to ABBA: THE MOVIE and why I love TCM Underground. Until I saw this movie which they recently aired as a double feature with “Thank God It’s Friday” I had absolutely no idea this movie existed. Which really blows my mind as I totally and completely LOVE ABBA.

And just like that, my deepest, darkest secret is revealed.

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I cannot tell you how many times The Wife has caught me in the basement singing along to “Mamma Mia” or “Waterloo” or “Dancing Queen” (God, how I LOVE “Dancing Queen”) while I’m mopping the floor or doing laundry. Because when I’m doing household chores you will catch me listening to A: Parliament/Funkadelic  B: James Brown or C: ABBA.

Ever since I saw this movie I’ve been racking my brains trying to remember where I was and what I was doing in 1977 (my senior year of High School) that would have prevented me from seeing an ABBA movie and I seriously cannot remember. But I did have a good time watching it and singing along to all the familiar songs 40 years later.

There’s the loosest of plots holding this movie together. Ashley Wallace (Robert Hughes) is a late-night DJ at a fifth rate Australian radio station who is charged by his boss to get an in-depth, exclusive interview with ABBA who has just come to Australia on a tour. The movie was filmed during the group’s actual 1977 Australian tour which broke all kinds of attendance records.

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Poor Ashley is totally and woefully out of his depth for this kind of assignment. He even forgets his press pass which means he continually has run-ins with ABBA’s Head of Security (Tom Oliver) as he chases ABBA from Sydney to Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne trying to get an interview with them. Unable to do so, Ashley interviews the fans and even though when he started out on this job he had no respect for the group (he’s a country/western fan) through the eyes of the fans he comes to discover an appreciation for what they do and the feeling they inspire in people who love their music.

But the real meat of the music is ABBA themselves. We see Benny Anderson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad in concert footage that is truly and joyously fun to watch. It’s plain they’re having a good time performing on stage and that joy transfers to their sold out stadium crowds who sing along with them. That’s the real reason to watch the movie and if you’re an ABBA fan and haven’t seen this yet then I strongly suggest you hunt it down and do so. And even if you’re not a ABBA fan and wonder what the big deal about them was, you should watch it. I know it’s hard to believe for some of my younger readers but ABBA was so huge in their day it was unreal. They came close to breaking records that only The Beatles had set. Why? I don’t get that deep into analyzing what I like. All I know is that their music makes me feel good, makes me feel like dancing and singing along and that really all I require from my music. ABBA: THE MOVIE is well worth your time to watch both as a cultural/musical study of a period of music history and just as plain ol’ good movie watchin’ time. Enjoy.

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Rated G

90 Minutes

Star Trek Beyond

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2016

Paramount Pictures/Skydance Media/Alibaba Pictures/Bad Robot Productions

Directed by Justin Lin

Produced by J.J. Abrams/Roberto Orci

Written by Simon Pegg/Doug Jung

Based on “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry

They say that the third time’s the charm and in the case of STAR TREK BEYOND I’d have to say that’s a fact. Not that the first two movies were out and out awful. They weren’t. They had the burden of being reboots of the beloved franchise that has lasted for fifty years now. And the news that the reboot would be set in an alternate timeline with new actors playing the classic roles of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov didn’t send fans into the stratosphere with joy. I liked the first “Star Trek” even though I didn’t find the story engaging or particularly thrilling. But I enjoyed seeing new faces playing familiar characters and I think the infusion of new creative blood behind the camera is the best thing that could have happened to “Star Trek” overall.

I even liked “Star Trek Into Darkness” even though it made the mistake of trying to be “The Wrath of Khan” and apparently nobody took a cue from The Next Generation movie “Nemesis” or the three episode arc from Enterprise: “Borderland” “Cold Station 12” and “The Augments.” Because if they had, they’d have known that trick never works.

But thankfully STAR TREK BEYOND has a new director and an original story at last to work with. And the result is a movie and a story that feels like it could have been a movie made back when the original cast was in their prime. Much of that feeling comes from a screenplay that gives every crew member something to do and their chance to shine. The best “Star Trek” movies are the ones where all of the crew members are active in the story. And this one reinforces the concept that the reason Kirk is able to save the universe on a regular basis is that he has the best and brightest in Starfleet at his side and he knows the best way to utilize their skills and talents as a team.

The U.S.S. Enterprise is in the third year of it’s five year mission and Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is feeling the ennui of deep space exploration. He’s increasingly wondering what he’s doing out here and if this is really what he’s supposed to be doing with his life as he only joined Starfleet on a dare. First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also having a spiritual crisis of his own. Vulcans are now an endangered species and Spock is beginning to think that he should be on New Vulcan helping his people instead of gallivanting around the galaxy.

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The Enterprise puts in for shore leave at Starbase Yorktown, a ridiculously huge city in space for some much needed R&R but that doesn’t last long. Starbase Yorktown’s commanding officer Commodore Paris (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is soon dispatching Kirk and crew on a rescue mission to the planet Altamid. Turns out that the rescue mission is a trap. The Enterprise is attacked and destroyed by a swarm of spaceships. Krall (Idris Elba) who is looking for an ancient superweapon he insists is in Kirk’s possession captures most of the crew. The bridge crew is separated: Kirk with Chekov (Anton Yelchin) Spock with Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are prisoners of Krall while Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) comes under the protection of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) a scavenger whose martial arts abilities are more than considerably dangerous.

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As Kirk puts his crew back together, Krall’s plan is gradually uncovered. Using the ancient superweapon, Krall intends to attack Starbase Yorktown and kill everybody inhabiting it. He will then use the Starbase and it’s considerable resources to attack The Federation. Can Kirk reunite his crew in time to find a way off the planet and stop Krall? Since Paramount has already announced there’s going to be a fourth movie I think that in itself answers that question.

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For the first time, Chris Pine looks comfortable playing James Kirk and I think that’s because he’s become confident enough in his own acting abilities. He’s been in a significant amount of movies other than the “Star Trek” movie where he’s distinguished himself and so I think he’s not fighting so hard to not be William Shatner. Which is what I got from his earlier performances in the previous “Star Trek” movies. In fact, a lot of the fun in watching his performance here is because he is doing Shatner in many of the scenes, especially the opening scene where he’s negotiating a peace treaty. He’s even got his hair cut in a style reminiscent of Shatner’s hair style in The Original Series.

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Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban nailed the essence of their characters right from their first scenes in the first movie and that hasn’t changed. Especially Karl Urban. I say again that I’m halfway convinced he must somehow be related to DeForest Kelly as he channels his spirit to an uncanny degree. The movie’s story wisely puts McCoy and Spock together most of the time and their scenes together are perhaps the best tribute to Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly.

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Simon Pegg’s Scotty gets a nice subplot of his own (hey, if you’re writing the screenplay then why not give yourself a juicy subplot?) as he becomes a sort of mentor/big brother to Jaylah. She herself meshes so well with the crew that I’m hoping they’ll bring her back as a permanent member in the next movie. Idris Elba adds Krall to his already impressive resume of bad guys. The only problem I have with him is his motivation. In all three of these movies revenge has been the motivation for the bad guys and it’s wearying to me. Now that we’re getting more original stories let’s have some original motivations for the bad guys to be carrying on cranky, okay?

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And Starbase Yorktown is astoundingly impressive enough to deserve it’s own movie. I read a review of this movie where the writer said that if there’s ever a “Deep Space Nine” movie then it should look like Starbase Yorktown and I agree wholeheartedly.

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So should you see STAR TREK BEYOND? Chances are you’ve already seen it, especially if you’re a rabid “Star Trek” fan like me. But if you haven’t, by all means go see it. For me this has been a pretty sad movie year and STAR TREK BEYOND is one of the bright spots that reminds me why I go to the movies. Enjoy.

122 Minutes

Rated PG-13