Kong: Skull Island

GONCUks

2017

Legendary Pictures/Tencent Pictures/Warner Bros.

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Produced by Thomas Tull/Jon Jashni/Mary Parent/Alex Garcia

Screenplay by Dan Gilroy/Max Borenstein/Derek Connolly

Story by John Gatins

Based on “King Kong” by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace

I’ll say this for KONG: SKULL ISLAND: It wastes no time in getting down to business. The movie knows good and damn well we’ve come to see King Kong and we do see him in all his towering glory in the first few minutes. But that’s only because we won’t see him again for a while because we’ve got to get the introductions of the human characters and necessary plot exposition out of the way. But that’s okay because thanks to the talented cast and energetic direction, you won’t be bored, trust me.

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Although KONG: SKULL ISLAND is designated as being a sequel to the 2014 “Godzilla” it starts off with newsreel footage that reminded me more of the beginning of the infamous 1998 “Godzilla.” And that’s not the only thing it’ll remind you of as you watch it. Pay attention and you’ll see numerous shout-outs, call-backs and homages to the 1933, 1976 and 2005 versions of “King Kong” because this is a reboot of the character and you need to take it on that basis because there’s no explanation of how Kong survived falling off the Empire State Building or how he got back to Skull Island. To steal from Marvel Comics, consider this to be Ultimate King Kong, combining elements from all the previous versions of Kong to create something new and surprisingly fresh.

It’s 1973. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) work for a secret government organization named Monarch that investigates monstrous creatures that used to roam the Earth and Randa believes they still exist but hide in remote places like Skull Island. He secures a military escort to take him and a scientific expedition to Skull Island to prove his theory. The military escort is a wildass helicopter squadron known as the Sky Devils commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Packard jumps at the chance for the mission to snap him out of his depression about America pulling out of the Vietnam War.

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Also along for the trip is former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and award winning photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larsen) who has suspicions that the so-called scientific expedition is merely a cover for some sort of illegal and unethical secret military operation and she intends to uncover it. She uncovers something but it sure as hell wasn’t she thought it would be.

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Skull Island makes The Land That Time Forgot look like Coney Island. In the words of Seth McFarlane ; “everything that is not you wants to kill you.” Although not as totally and utterly frightening as Peter Jackson’s Skull Island (which gave me bad dreams for two or three nights after I saw his “King Kong”) there’s still enough beasties on this Skull Island to make our desperate band of heroes realize that they have absolutely no business being here. After a devastating battle with Kong that is apocalyptic in it’s savage carnage, our heroes are separated into two groups. They have to make their way to the north end of the island in two days where they hope to be picked up by pre-arranged transport. Of, course, the trick is to stay alive until then.

Did I say apocalyptic? I did. And I did not use that word by accident because much of KONG: SKULL ISLAND is going to remind you of “Apocalypse Now” believe it or not. John C. Reilly shows up as a character that owes much to Dennis Hopper’s crazed photographer from that movie and like Hopper, Reilly’s character lives with a tribe that worships Kong much in the same way that Hopper’s tribe worshipped Colonel Kurtz.

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The cast is first rate with John C. Reilly easily walking off with the movie’s MVP award. I wouldn’t dream of telling you the background of his character as it’s one of the most fun elements of the movie, which has all the excitement, feel, style and downright snap, crackle and pop of classic 1930’s and 1940s adventure movies. Samuel L. Jackson surprised me in this one and for an actor whose career I’ve been following as long as I’ve been following his, that’s not easy to do. Jackson manages to get in some social commentary about the military view of The Vietnam War without being heavy-handed or slowing down the plot the least little bit. John Goodman looks and sounds better here than he has in quite a while and appears to be having a ball. His first line in his very first scene got a big laugh from the audience I saw the movie with as he obviously means for it to have a double meaning as he looks directly at us and does everything except wink to make sure we get the joke.

Corey Hawkins I know from “Straight Outta Compton” and “24: Legacy” and he shows a definite gift for disappearing into different characters as there’s nothing of his other roles in this one. As for Tom Hiddleston…if the guy ever decides to go for being a straight-up action hero I would say that based on this movie, he can pull it off with no problem. If some smart studio ever gets their act together and makes a decent Modesty Blaise movie he’d be a perfect Willie Garvin.

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As for the star of the show himself, Kong is portrayed as what he should be, frighteningly majestic with a air of savage, yet sad nobility. I always like it when Kong is hinted at being more than just an animal and we get that here. Although this Kong doesn’t have a fight here that I would say tops the one in Peter Jackson’s where his Kong took on three T-Rexs, his final showdown with the gruesome Alpha Skullcrawler is deliriously satisfying in it’s sheer destructive spectacle.

I saw KONG: SKULL ISLAND on a day where it was cold and snowing like mad but for 118 minutes inside the theater I felt like it was summertime. Because that’s exactly what KONG: SKULL ISLAND is: a fun, goofy, pulp-inspired summer blockbuster that’s not afraid to be what it is; an adventure ride designed to do nothing but thrill and entertain and it does that the full 100%. Go see and enjoy.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

PG-13

118

And P.S…DO NOT LEAVE WHILE THE END CREDITS ARE ROLLING. Just like the Marvel movies there’s a scene after the credits are done that promises more to come.

 

 

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

 

 

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.

90 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

 

Hardcore Henry

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2015

Bazelevs/Versus Pictures/STX Entertainment

Written and Directed by Ilya Naishuller

Produced by Timur Bekmambetov

The concept of telling a movie’s story from the perspective of the protagonist isn’t exactly as new or as revolutionary as HARDCORE HENRY would have you believe. You go back to 1947 and you’ll find one of my favorite movies to use this gimmick; the film noir classic “The Lady In The Lake” starring and directed by Robert Montgomery who plays Raymond Chandler’s iconic private eye Philip Marlowe. We see Montgomery at the beginning of the movie where he explains the gimmick. With just a few exceptions, such as when Marlowe looks in a mirror, the entire movie is told from the viewpoint of Philip Marlowe. In essence, the audience is playing Philip Marlowe.

The technique is handled cleverly in “The Lady In The Lake” because there’s an actual story being told there with characters we care about and a mystery to be solved. In fact, watch it long enough and you’ll forget the gimmick. That never once happened to me while watching HARDCORE HENRY. The movie relentlessly and unmercifully goes out of its way to bash you over the head with the gimmick from start to finish. The result is that for 96 minutes what you’re doing is watching a first-person shooter video game. And as anybody can tell you, there are two activities that are usually more fun to do than to watch: sex and playing video games.

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Henry (You) wakes up in laboratory with his memory gone and missing his left arm and left leg. A cyberneticist named Estelle (Haley Bennett) claims to be Henry’s wife and outfits him with bionic limbs. She informs him that due to a horrible accident, much of his body has been replaced with bionics, granting him superhuman strength, stamina and agility. Before she can explain much more (that happens a lot in this movie) the lab is attacked by a group of mercenaries. They’re led by the psychotic Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) who demonstrates fearsome telekinetic abilities that Henry’s bionics are no match for.

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Henry and Estelle escape the lab which is on a gigantic airship by escape pod but are ambushed by Akan and his men and Estelle is taken. Henry is rescued by Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) who plainly knows more than he is telling but before he can tell Henry, he’s killed. But don’t worry. Jimmy shows up repeatedly in the movie. Every time he’s killed, another Jimmy shows up. His function in the movie is to more or less get Henry to the next level of the game with hints, clues, and information. Henry makes his way through various levels such as a hi-tech whorehouse, a foot chase through Moscow, and an abandoned hotel before reaching the final level: Akon’s skyscraper where he has to fight his way to the top through an army of cyborg super-soldiers. And naturally he has to fight the final boss, Akon himself.

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Let me just say that I fully realize that I’m not the audience for this kind of movie. The action sequences are all done in shaky-cam which is a technique I despise thoroughly. I’ve seen maybe three of four movies where it used effectively and this ain’t one of ‘em. I think it’s a lazy way to make a movie and I don’t go for that excuse that it’s a way for the director to make the audience feel like they’re part of the action. If I want to feel like I’m part of the action I’ll show up at a Klan cookout with a couple of white women on my arm. I’m paying my money to see the action up on the screen, thank you very much. I consider it a waste of my time and money to get action sequences that consist of the camera wildly whipping around and everything is a blur.

I will say this: if you’re looking for violence then this is definitely the movie for you. I’ve rarely seen a movie with this much profanity, blood and carnage. The violence is incredibly nasty, brutal and downright pornographic. And mind you, I enjoy profanity, violence, and carnage as much as any of you. I just prefer that it have a reason to be happening, is all.

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The acting (haw!) in this is nothing to cheer about. It continually baffles me how Sharlto Copley showed so much promise, character and charisma in “District 9” and “The A-Team” has never demonstrated it since in anything he’s done. He works his moneymaker off trying to give his Jimmy character some coherent reason to keep the movie’s plot together but he’s sabotaged by the fact that HARDCORE HENRY is built around a gimmick that goes on for far too long. HARDCORE HENRY plays as if a 15 year old first-person shooter enthusiast was given ten million dollars and told to go make a movie. It gets my vote for worst movie of the year so far. And remember, I’ve seen “Deadpool” and “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Go see at your own risk.

Rated R

96 Minutes