Vice Squad

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1982

Embassy Pictures

Directed by Gary Sherman

Produced by Frank Capra, Jr./Brian Frankish/Frank Hildebrand/Sandy Howard/Robert Rehme

Written by Sandy Howard/Robert Vincent O’Neill/Kenneth Peters/Gary Sherman

Let’s be upfront about one thing right at the start of this review: there’s not a single thing original about the plot of VICE SQUAD. I’m willing to bet you that this same plot was used at least once by every single police and/or detective show during the 1970s and 1980s. Oh, they’d change it around some. Instead of a psycho hunting down a prostitute it would be a blind girl. Or a little black boy from the ghetto. Or an old man still grieving for his wife. And I do believe that there was an episode of “Hunter” which starred Fred Dryer as a Dirty Harry knock-off which was a loose remake of this movie. In fact, I further believe that Wings Hauser played a tamer version of his Ramrod character in that episode. But I’m working off memory here so don’t quote me, hear?

VICE SQUAD is one of those goofy 1980s movies that I had forgotten about until my friend Christofer Nigro recommend I watch it and about twenty minutes in I realized that I had seen this movie way back in the day in a 42end Street grindhouse. And it was the nuclear-hot performance of Wings Hauser that reignited those memories. And I’ll explain why in a couple hundred words. let’s get the obligatory plot summary out of the way first.

L.A.P.D. Vice Squad detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson) as his team are hot on the trail of Ramrod (Wings Hauser) a psychotic pimp known for his vicious treatment of the girls in his stable. Ramrod’s specialty in administering punishment involves a coat hanger and I’m not gonna go any further describing what he does with it. But he’s never killed a girl. Until now. Ginger (Nina Blackwood and yes, it’s that Nina Blackwood) calls her friend and sister prostitute Princess (Season Hubley who was still Mrs. Kurt Russell when she made this movie) for help. Ramrod is looking for her and she knows good and damn well what he’s going to do when he finds her. Princess advises her to stay low and stay out of sight until she can get to Ginger.

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When Princess does get to Ginger she’s in the morgue and Walsh isn’t happy about that. He’s even less happy that the uncatchable Ramrod has killed her. But he makes a deal with Princess. If she’ll wear a wire and record Ramrod saying something, anything incriminating, he won’t throw Princess in the slammer on bogus drug charges. And in the space of a couple of hours, Princess has indeed performed his mission and Ramrod is arrested and on his way to the hoosegow.

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I should mention here that events in this movie happen awfully damn fast. That’s because the events play out in what I think is roughly a 12-hour span of time from 6PM to 6AM. This is a movie that demands you keep up with what’s happening on the screen because it sure ain’t gonna slow down for you. Ramrod escapes from police custody with an easy savagery and then proceeds to go a horrendously violent hunt for Princess to exact revenge. Hunt is a mild term for what Ramrod does. He’s got the single-mindedness of a Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees married to the bloodlust of a Klingon grafted onto the survival instincts of a Comanche. Walsh and his team have to find Princess before Ramrod does but you get the definite feeling they’re fighting way out of their weight class.

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And that’s due to the performance of Wings Hauser. This is the performance that led to him playing whackos for the next two decades and its his own fault because he was so doggone outstanding doing it in this movie. Ramrod is a psycho but he’s even more dangerous because he’s a smart psycho. Combine that with his extraordinary animal cunning and he makes for a formidable adversary. And he steals the movie because it’s way more interesting watching Ramrod in his hunt for Princess than the cops hunting for him because we never know what this guy is gonna do next but we don’t want to miss a second of him doing it, whatever batshit insane thing it turns out to be.

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The rest of the acting in the movie is nothing to write home about. Season Hubley was never an actress that did much for me. She’s okay and that’s about it. Look for Fred “Rerun” Berry in a cameo and and our buddy Pepe Serna (from “Scarface” and “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai”) is here as one of Walsh’s team. And it’s too bad Walsh’s team wasn’t given more characterization as visually they’re an interesting crew and by giving them more quirky personalities and skills they might have presented more formidable opponents for Ramrod. But as given to us the way they are, they really don’t seem to present much of a threat to him.

VICE SQUAD, from left: Lydia Lei, Kelly Piper, 1982. ©Avco Embassy

So should you see VICE SQUAD? I would highly recommend it. It’s a fine example of 1980s exploitation trash that so joyously revels in it’s own sleaze, scuzz and seediness. It’s not a pretty picture and it’s not supposed to be. But if does have that terrific Wings Hauser performance and some really tight directing from Gary Sherman that insures you will not be bored. I’ve provided a link below where you can watch it on YouTube and my recommendation is that you save it for a Friday or Saturday night and make it your Midnight Movie then. Enjoy.

Rio Conchos

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1964

20th Century Fox

Directed by Gordon Douglas

Produced by David Weisbart

Screenplay by Joseph Landon and Clair Huffaker

Based on the novel “Guns of Rio Conchos” written by Clair Huffaker

Music by Jerry Goldsmith

You tell me that there’s a movie or television show with Richard Boone in it and I’m watching it. Period. Richard Boone was probably the first man crush I ever had, thanks to “Have Gun With Travel.” My father never missed an episode and when it came on he would holler for me to come watch it with him. I fell in love with the show and with Richard Boone. It took me a long time to figure out why I enjoyed watching him on screen. He is a hero that looks, sounds and sometimes has to act like a villain. Take his character of Paladin in “Have Gun Will Travel.” He dresses all in black and that, along with his thin mustache and air of quiet menace he looks like the classic Western villain. But Paladin is truly a heroic, noble man on a knightly quest in the Wild West. Yes, he hires himself and his gun out for pay but his aim is to see that justice is done. A lot of the DNA of Paladin is in my character of Dillon, that’s how much I admire and like the character and Richard Boone.

Richard Boone is also among that brotherhood of actors I call Old Time Tough. Before he found success in acting, Mr. Boone worked as an oil rigger, a bartender and served in the United States Navy during World War II, seeing combat on three ships in the Pacific. He’s a guy who very easily can convince you he’s a tough guy on screen because he was one in Real Life.

It’s a damn shame he never became as big a movie star as he deserved to be because every movie performance I’ve seen in him has been entertaining and when he’s on screen I simply cannot take my eyes off him. RIO CONCHOS is his movie from start to finish and it’s one of the best Westerns I’ve ever seen. It’s a favorite of mine and I take every opportunity to turn people onto it whenever I can. Hence this here review. Now attend while I serve up the obligatory plot synopsis:

Jim Lassiter (Richard Boone) is an ex-Confederate Major waging his own private one-man war against the Apache Nation. Apaches raped and murdered his wife and daughter and since then he has slaughtered Apaches with such viciousness that they sing songs and tell stories about him to scare their children. Lassiter kills a raiding party of Apache and acquires from them a U.S. Army repeating rifle. Soon after Lassiter is arrested by U.S. Army Captain Haven (Stuart Whitman) and his second-in-command, Buffalo Soldier Sgt. Franklyn (Jim Brown) who want know where he got the rifle.

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Turns out that Haven was in charge of a large shipment of the repeating rifles that were stolen from him. Haven’s superior officer Colonel Wagner (Warner Anderson) makes a deal with Lassiter. If he’ll help Haven destroy or recover the rifles, he’ll turn him loose. Lassiter is uninterested until he finds out that it’s his former commanding officer Colonel Theron Pardee (Edmond O’Brien) who is making a deal with the Apache for the rifles. You see, Pardee’s contact with the Apache is one of their chiefs, Bloodshirt (Rodolfo Acosta). And Bloodshirt is the Apache who desecrated and killed his family. Lassiter figures that if he helps Haven get to Pardee that will get him to Bloodshirt. Lassiter agrees to the deal. But only if he can take along Juan Luis Rodriguez (Tony Franciosa) a Mexican outlaw whose clownish demeanor disguises an extraordinary resourceful and dangerous man with both knife and gun. When they’re in the guardhouse together Rodriguez tries to defend his killing of a man as self-defense. Lassiter snorts in derision and says; “A man who can shoot the way you do, its murder.” Lassiter’s argument if that Haven can have a man of his own to watch his back, he should have one as well.

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And so the four men set out on their damned, doomed mission to find Colonel Pardee and Bloodshirt with a wagon of gunpowder and repeating rifles. The plan being that they let Pardee find them under their guise of being Army deserters looking to make a quick buck. Pardee didn’t get the nickname of ‘The Gray Fox’ for nothing, though. Our boys find that out real quick when their plan goes south even quicker.

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RIO CONCHOS is an uncompromisingly brutal Western. The protagonists don’t particularly like each other a whole lot and spend most of their time together trying to figure out how to double-cross each other to achieve their own goals. It is interesting to see how Lassiter and Franklyn grow to respect each other, to the point where they join together to make the ultimate sacrifice. Richard Boone owns this movie from start to finish and commits to the truth of his character. There’s a startling scene where he’s prepared to let Apaches burn to death and when thwarted, attempts to murder an Apache baby. But it’s a testament to his acting skill that while we don’t identify with Lassiter or his murderous blood rage, we can understand it.

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Stuart Whitman is one of those actors who have never much impressed me but he does here. Haven is a straight up Army man, committed to his duty from start to finish. Tony Franciosa, who is an Italian, has the decidedly un-PC role of playing a Mexican here and if you watch the movie you’ll just have to overlook his attempt to do a Mexican accent and go with it.

Even though this is Jim Brown’s first movie you can see here why he became a major movie star as his career progressed. Even when he’s in a scene where he has nothing to say or do he’s a presence that radiates power and confidence. We know he’s in the scene even though he’s just standing there. That’s a quality that can’t be taught. It’s just something you have or you don’t and Jim Brown definitely has it. RIO CONCHOS is worth seeing not just for Richard Boone’s performance but Jim Brown’s as well. It’s a movie that should be better known to Western fans and I hope that my review will steer you in its direction if you’ve previously passed it by. Highly Recommend.

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107 Minutes

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

 

 

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

The Legend of Tarzan

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2016

Village Roadshow Pictures/RatPac Entertainment/Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by David Yates

Produced by Jerry Wentraub/David Barron/Mike Richardson

Written by Adam Cozad/Craig Brewer

Based on the character “Tarzan” created by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Before I get into the review of THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, a bit of personal history. Some of you have heard this story before so bear with me a bit for the benefit of those who haven’t. I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs when I was in Junior High School but it wasn’t through his Tarzan books. I devoured his John Carter of Mars books, his Pellucidar and Venus series and historical novels such as “The Rider” “The Outlaw of Torn” “The Mucker.” I read his Tarzan much later on, mainly because they were reissued with gorgeous Neal Adams covers.

Once upon a time in the 1970s, I’m riding on the ‘G’ subway train home from school, reading a Tarzan novel. To this day I can’t recall which one it was even though every other detail of what happened on that train is still as fresh as if it happened today. Three grown men I didn’t know sat down next to me and demanded to know why I was reading a Tarzan book. They described it as “white man’s bullshit” and “racist garbage.” And that’s just about the only part of their descriptions I can relate to you and still keep this review clean. Just trust me when I say they were very colorful. One of the men was particularly vexed at me and loudly expressed his view that at the next stop he and his companions should bodily escort me off the train and give me the thrashing I so richly deserved. It was actually a lot more profane than that but again; I’m trying to keep it clean. I didn’t get thrashed but I will tell you this: it was a long time before I read a Tarzan book in public again.

But I did keep on reading Tarzan. Because I loved the way Burroughs told a story. Yes, I realized the racist elements in his Tarzan stories. But I also realized that if I cut myself off from his books I would be depriving myself of some truly excellent stories and characters. So I had to make a decision about how I would approach reading material (and movies and other works of art) that were created in a supposedly less enlightened time. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.

So what has all this to do with THE LEGEND OF TARZAN? Because it’s a Tarzan movie that is rightly set in period and it’s kinda hard to do a Tarzan movie without Tarzan being The Great White Savior. It’s just that simple. The very DNA of Tarzan has racial biases and assumptions that have to be dealt with and not simply ignored. But I think that by putting Tarzan in a story where he mainly has to save Jane sidesteps the awkwardness of having him save African warriors who most certainly don’t need a Tarzan to save them. But I also do realize the image of Tarzan as such is still a polarizing one so a lot of people have no use for a Tarzan movie. Believe me, I understand.

In fact, when we meet Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard), he doesn’t even want to be called Tarzan anymore. He’s fully embraced being John Clayton III aka Lord Greystoke and living in London with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). He’s asked by The House of Lords to return to Africa on a diplomatic mission on the invitation of King Leopold of Belgium to inspect the development of The Congo. He’s got no interest until he’s informed by the U.S. envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) that there’s a strong possibility Belgian mercenaries are enslaving the Congolese. Williams persuades John to accept Leopold’s invitation and take Williams along so that Williams can find the evidence needed to stop Leopold. John agrees and of course, Jane goes along as well since unless we have her kidnapped by the bad guy Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) we don’t have a plot.

Rom is working with Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) leader of a savage tribe guarding the location of the fabulous diamonds of Opar. Mbonga agrees to give Rom diamonds in exchange for Tarzan since Mbonga seeks revenge on Tarzan. So once Rom kidnaps Jane, we’re off and running since the movie’s taken a considerable amount of time setting up the situation and the relationship between the characters so we can get into the jungle action, right?

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Right. There’s a considerable lot of it that comes our way. With the kinda stuff we expect to see in a Tarzan movie: Tarzan swinging through the trees, hanging out with apes. I would have liked to see Tarzan fighting a lion or leopard, though. Or riding an elephant. And it’s unforgivable that not once does he let out with the classic Tarzan yell. Oh, we do hear a version of it, but c’mon. Tarzan’s yell is like Batman’s Batsignal or Superman’s ‘S’ symbol. It’s who he is.

Alexander Skarsgard is solid as Tarzan. He does interesting things with his body language and the way he holds his arms and uses his hands that I’ve never before seen an actor in a Tarzan movie do. And I like the way that as the movie goes on, John Clayton sheds more and more of his Western garb as he reclaims more and more of his savage heritage. In fact, the movie could easily be subtitled; “How Tarzan Gets His Groove Back” since it quickly becomes obvious to John Clayton that maybe he’s allowed himself to become too civilized and he’s got to get back to what he really is in order to save his wife.

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Margot Robbie is a lot of fun to watch as Jane and she and Samuel L. Jackson strike the right note with their characters and realize they’re in a jungle adventure movie so they should be having fun while doing so. Jackson’s character is based on the real-life soldier, lawyer, adventurer and journalist George Washington Williams and is an interesting enough character to deserve his own movie. Especially when you do your homework and find out that Williams actually did expose Belgium’s exploitations and slavery of Congolese natives and resources. It’s grating indeed to see him as the comedy relief when you know the background of the real-life Williams and Jackson’s performance takes a little getting used to as he’s pretty much playing a modern day black man in the 19th century but since he’s Sam Jackson, we forgive him. And in a movie that takes itself so seriously, a laugh here or there is badly needed.

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If there’s a major disappointment here acting wise, it’s Christoph Waltz. This is his second performance as a villain that has bored me. There’s nothing particularly memorable about Rom who doesn’t seem very interested in his own plans and schemes and if the villain can’t get excited about his own villainy then why should I?

LEGEND OF TARZAN

So should you see THE LEGEND OF TARZAN? Only if you’re going to see it purely as an action-adventure movie. Because the movie works it’s money-maker off to be just that. It does it’s best to give us a Tarzan that is true to the spirit of the character Edgar Rice Burroughs created while still being sensitive to modern day audiences. It’s a noble effort for what is just supposed to be a summer action movie. I enjoyed it but I fully realize that most people can’t say: ‘It’s just a movie,” and go with it. It has amazing locations, impressive action sequences, excellent special effects and plenty of Alexander Skarsgard’s truly impressive musculature that the ladies will no doubt enjoy.

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Rated PG-13

110 Minutes

 

 

 

 

Into The Night

kinopoisk.ru

1985

Universal Pictures

Directed by John Landis

Produced by George Folsey, Jr and Ron Koslow

Written by Ron Koslow

INTO THE NIGHT is one of those movies that when I describe the plot and name the actors in this movie even my highly knowledgeable friends who know their movies tell me I must be making it up, gotten two or three different movies mixed up together while whacked out on caffeine and Benzedrine or plain out don’t know what I’m talking about. I can’t blame them because it seems as if INTO THE NIGHT is truly one of those 1980’s movies that have been forgotten. Considering the cast and the director, I’m really surprised it’s not become one of those cult movies that stays alive through word of mouth. I remember seeing it during its original theatrical run and just recently saw it again for the first time since ’85. It’s a light movie, running on the slimmest of plots, quirkiness and the likeability of its two leads. There’s also a truly extensive cast made up of some really unusual actors you wouldn’t expect to find in this kind of movie and cameos by nearly two dozen popular directors and screenwriters of the 80’s

Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum) is a man deeply depressed with his boring life, his dull job and his sour marriage. So depressed that he can’t sleep. He tells his best friend Herb (Dan Aykroyd) that his last good night’s sleep was in 1980. Herb tells Ed that he needs some excitement in his life. He advises Ed to catch a red-eye to Las Vegas, gamble, get drunk and get laid. When Ed catches his wife having sex is their own bedroom, he decides to act upon that suggestion.

At the airport Ed stumbles upon a hideously brutal murder committed by four Iranians (one of them played by John Landis) and helps the beautiful jewel smuggler Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer) get away. Diana and her now dead partner have smuggled six priceless emeralds from Iran into the United States and now an eccentric assortment of extremely dangerous individuals are after her. Diana begs Ed to help her get to one of her high-powered friends who can get her out of this situation. It’s a situation that Ed really wants no part of but how can you say no to Michelle Pfeiffer?

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The emerald plot is just a MacGuffin to introduce Ed to a nighttime world he had no idea even existed up until now. During the course of his two night long adventure he runs into a variety of oddball characters such as Diana’s Elvis impersonator brother Charlie (Bruce McGill) a charming hit man (David Bowie) and a French criminal mastermind (Roger Vadim)

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And then there are the cameos: David Cronenberg, Jim Henson, Jack Arnold, Paul Bartel, Johnathan Demme, Richard Franklin, Colin Higgins, Lawrence Kasdan, Paul Mazursky, Amy Heckerling. And that’s not even half of ‘em. You could watch the movie just for a drinking game where every time you see a director in a cameo, take a shot. Trust me, you’ll be stretched out on the floor before the movie’s half done.

Fortunately the cameos don’t get in the way of the cast that has to do the heavy lifting; Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, Richard Farnsworth, Irene Papas and Vera Miles. Most of the movie is actually on Goldblum and Pfeiffer as with such a large cast, characters come and go pretty quickly but they have a nice chemistry together. And Michelle is most definitely easy on the eye. And Jeff Goldblum had the trademark on this type of role back in the 80’s: a slightly eccentric everyman who seems to be always two steps behind everybody else but once he knows the score, rises up to meet the challenge and ends up three steps ahead by the time we get to the end credits

If there’s any problem I have with INTO THE NIGHT is that director Landis tries to have it both ways: he sets out to make an eccentric, quirky comedy thriller with occasional shots of slapstick but he insists on having scenes of pretty brutal violence. There’s one really jarring scene where it takes four men to drown one woman that I really hope Landis wasn’t playing for laughs as there was nothing funny about it. And the shoot-out at the airport near the end of the movie is a bloodbath Sam Peckinpah would be proud of. But I have no problem at all with B.B. King singing a couple of great songs on the soundtrack, including a kickass cover of “In The Midnight Hour” and the theme song “Into The Night.”

So should you see INTO THE NIGHT? Sure you should. It’s an undemanding, entertaining little movie that goes down real easy. You don’t have to burn up brain cells trying to figure out the plot or delve into the motivations of the characters. Just sit back, watch and have fun with it. It would make a good Saturday night double feature with Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours” a movie it shares the same sensibility with. Enjoy.

115 minutes

Rated R